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Pacers trade brutal schedule

by: Vern Uyetake, 
Lakeridge’s Kai Schmidt drives through North Salem’s defense during last Friday’s non-league, which the Pacers won 62-40.

With just three experienced players on his roster, coach Mike Melin wasn't sure what to expect from his Lakeridge girls basketball team this season. Well, we know for sure that the Pacers won't be pushovers after they scored a pair of victories last week.

Even though this was supposed to be a rebuilding year, 'we've got some kids who are stepping up,' Melin said after his squad beat Sprague 48-46 last Wednesday and then routed North Salem 62-40 on Friday.

Granted, Sprague and North Salem are not exactly top-10 teams. But, last year, Lakeridge played many of the state's highly ranked teams during the preseason and that approach didn't work real well as the Pacers started the season slowly and had trouble recovering during league play.

'If they were in the top 10, we played them,' Melin painfully recalled.

This year, Melin opted for a slightly easier schedule and the results have been positive so far.

'As young as we are, it's huge that we get some confidence,' Melin said. 'Because, even though we're young, we've got some real potential.'

For a few of the players, that potential is already being realized. Senior guard Kai Schmidt, who is one of three experienced players, is the team's scoring leader after netting 11 points against Sprague and then dropping 23 on North Salem.

Senior center Kiersten McNairy and senior guard Lauren Joyce also are averaging in double figures after the first two games. McNairy scored 11 against Sprague and nine against North Salem while Joyce went for seven and 13 against those two opponents, respectively.

That kind of production wasn't a surprise for McNairy because she played at that level last year. But it was a slightly different story for Joyce, who has been unable to play any games during the last three years because of an assortment of injuries.

'She's a zone buster,' Melin said of Joyce's shooting ability. 'She's got a pure form.'

Melin was excited about his team's performances in both games last week. Against Sprague, the Pacers trailed after each of the first three periods but they managed to pull out a two-point victory after a solid fourth quarter.

'Kids with less character would have found a way to lose that game,' Melin said.

McNairy and Schmidt tied for team scoring honors with 11 points apiece. The big story, though, was the game turned in by the defense. That defense held Sprague's top player, Kylie Kuhn, who just seven points. It was the first time in her career that Kuhn was held to single digits in scoring.

Kuhn also is an incredible rebounder. At least she was in one game last year when she grabbed a school-record 32 rebounds. But the Pacers held her to single digits in that category as well.

North Salem, the second opponent on Lakeridge's schedule, could have used someone like Kuhn. As it was, the Vikings had no one score in double figures and they wound up being over-matched by the Pacers.

That was the game in which Joyce scored 13. Lakeridge also got nine points from McNairy and a game-high 23 from Schmidt. It's interesting to note that Lakeridge would have won the game even if no one else had scored for the Pacers. But four other players - Courtney Bird, Lexi Ross, Kayla Glanville and Andrea Hopkins - also got their names in the scorebook while combining for 17 points.

It's still early in the season, but Melin likes what he's seen from his team so far.

'Every time we've played (including the preseason jamboree), we've been a little better,' the coach said.

There's still a long ways to go, but people in the Pacers camp are already thinking about the possbility of contending for a playoff spot.

'So far, we're in pretty good shape,' Melin said. 'If the kids keep working hard … we might make a run for that fourth (playoff) spot.'