The Gladiators eye success, despite a youthful and inexperienced lineup

by: JOHN LARIVIERE - Gladstone players listen intently during a timeout in an early-season game with Sisters. Gladstone coach Pat Scott has his Gladiators believing they can be successful this season, despite their youth and inexperience in varsity-level play.Gladstone High School’s girls basketball program has a new head coach and four players with starting experience expected to return from last year’s team have elected not to return. But the Gladiators still expect to be competitive in girls basketball this winter.

“I feel like we are going to be pretty good,” said Gladstone junior co-captain Nichole Peterson. “La Salle has some good experience and Madras has their top player back. But I think we’ll be one of the top teams in the league, and hopefully make it to [the 4A State Tournament in] Corvallis.”

“Not hopefully make it to Corvallis, we will make it to Corvallis,” said senior co-captain Alisa Bradshaw.

“We have 18 new plays we have to learn and pretty much a whole new team and all new coaches,” said junior co-captain Megan Kirchem. “We’re playing pretty good now, but we’re going to get better as we learn the plays and learn to play together. Coach [Pat Scott] is a really good teacher.”

“Most people thought we wouldn’t be very good [because of the players who elected not to return],” Bradshaw said. “But we’ve put in a lot of time and effort, and we’re more of a team than last year. We play as a team, and everyone contributes.”

“Our roster is so deep,” Kirchem said. “Everyone has the same amount of skills and [Coach Scott] has faith in all of us, so everyone plays a lot.”

“We go 100 percent, whether it’s a practice or a shoot-around,” Petersen said.

The Gladiators have been competitive in preseason, winning three of their first five games.

They opened with a 61-33 win at Astoria and followed that up with losses in close games with eighth-ranked Philomath (42-37) and fourth-ranked Sisters (39-31). After falling behind Sisters 18-6, they closed to within three points, at 32-29, before the Outlaws salted the game away with free throws.

More recently they defeated Scappoose 40-36, and on Dec. 18 they won at Yamhill-Carlton 53-41. The win at Yamhill was a confidence-builder, because last year’s team had eked out a 41-37 win over the Tigers in the play-in round of last season’s state playoffs.

Among players who started for Gladstone last year but elected not to play this year are seniors McKenna Hopkins (5-8 guard), Taylor Plunkett (5-9 post), Amber Jensen (5-6 guard) and Madi Cronin (5-7 guard). Hopkins and Plunkett were first-team all-conference selections last year and Jensen made the Tri-Valley Conference’s second all-star team. Hopkins has transferred to Oregon City.

Still, the Gladiators’ success this preseason was not totally unexpected, even with the loss of the veterans. Many of the players on this year’s varsity played for a jayvee team whose only loss all season was to Banks in preseason.

Bradshaw (6-0 guard/forward) is the only senior on this year’s varsity roster. Other varsity players include: juniors Nichole Petersen (5-9 guard), Fiona Burrell (5-9 guard), Kendall Schumaker (5-6 guard) and Megan Kirchem (5-9 guard); sophomores Molly Webster (5-10 guard), Melisa Campos (5-3 guard), Mikaela Simac (5-8 guard), Alicia Feb (5-10 guard/forward), Presley Braun (5-6 guard) and Micala Delepierre (6-2 forward); and freshmen Jessica Petersen (5-8 guard) and Ashley Henry (5-3 guard).

Webster and Bradshaw are the only full-time varsity players returning from last year, although several other athletes swung between varsity and jayvee a year ago.

One of the most impressive things about the Gladiators’ play in preseason has been their depth in talent. Coach Scott has played at least 10 players in every game and he substitutes frequently, giving each player a near-equal amount of playing time.

Part of his game plan is to wear opponents down, through depth and aggressive defensive play. It worked at Yamhill-Carlton when the Gladiators outscored the Tigers 29-19 in the second half; and it nearly worked in the game with Sisters.

The Gladiators have had balanced scoring, with a different player stepping up to lead the offensive charge in nearly every game.

Kirchem (12 points) led nine players who put points on the scoreboard in the rout of Astoria. Bradshaw scored a team-high nine points against Philomath; and Webster scored a team-high 12 points at Yamhill-Carlton.

Webster, who missed three games while recuperating from a soccer injury, was leading the team, averaging 11 points, through Gladstone’s first five games.

“I like the girls’ enthusiasm,” Scott said. “They’re really short on [varsity] experience, but they’re learning and improving in every game. And we’re getting contributions from everybody....

“The girls have shown streaks of brilliance. All they need is a little more consistency. When they play well, they can play with anybody.”

The Gladiators are at Cascade this Friday and Saturday, playing in a tournament.

They entertain Seaside on Jan. 5, Tillamook on Jan. 8 and Banks on Jan. 10, in their final tuneups for the 2013 TVC league season. They open league play Jan. 15, at La Salle.

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