Sterling Swift is lighting them up at La Salle

by: JAIME VALDEZ - La Salle Prep 5-8 junior guard Sterling Swift (2) puts the ball up over the guard of Madras senior post Inez Jones (22) in last weeks game with the White Buffaloes. Despite efforts by opponents to slow her down, Swift averaged 20 points a game through the Falcons first 17 games.La Salle Prep junior Sterling Swift is a big reason why the Falcons’ have been successful in girls basketball this season.

Heading into play this week, the Falcons were ranked fourth in the OSAA power rankings. They sported an overall record of 14-3 and a record of 4-0 in the Tri-Valley Conference, with wins over their toughest conference opponents — Gladstone (44-39) and Madras (40-32). They’ve been averaging 60 points a game, to just 37 points by their opponents.

And the Falcons have not had an easy schedule. They’ve played five teams ranked in the top 10 in Class 4A. They crushed third-ranked La Grande 67-29 when the two teams met in a Dec. 29 game at La Salle, and they dropped sixth-ranked Cascade 73-55 in a mid-December game with the Cougars.

Swift, a 5-8 shooting guard who has started on varsity in all but two games since she first came to La Salle as a freshman, has been sizzling hot this season, averaging 20 points and 51 percent shooting as the Falcons’ leading scorer. And she’s been accurate from long range, as well as on drives to the basket, hitting 32-of-83 (.386) 3-point attempts. She’s also been hot at the charity stripe, cashing in on 65-of-74 (.878) attempts.

She scored a career high 33 points in a 73-67 mid-December win over Central.

She’s the only player on this year’s team averaging scoring in double figures.

The phenomenal shooting is no accident. A resident of Happy Valley, Swift has played basketball the year around since she was in fourth grade, and she played on Clackamas’ Classic teams through eighth grade.

Through practice and dedication, she’s improved her accuracy dramatically over her freshman and sophomores seasons, when she averaged 7.5 ppg and 13.3 ppg respectively.

“I really worked on my 3-point shot last summer,” Swift says. “I didn’t take a day off from the first of June to the last day of July, and I did one-on-one training in our backyard court with my dad [Dan Swift] and brother [Austin Swift] all through August....

“Our coach [La Salle coach Kelli Wedin] had a 10,000 shot club and I got a T-shirt for taking 10,000 shots [during the month of August].”

Last July, Swift traveled to Chicago, Tennessee and San Diego, competing in tournament’s with Gary Lavender’s Oregon Elite high school AAU team.

“If she continues shooting the way she has been shooting, there could be some Division I [college] team somewhere out there looking for a shooter, and she could play Division I,” said Lavender, who coached at Lake Oswego High School for nearly three decades before taking up coaching AAU teams in 2007. “She’s definitely a Division II player.”

“Sterling is a very coachable kid, who has a tremendous work ethic and is a great teammate,” Wedin said. “She makes the most of every opportunity she has on the court, in practices and games.

“She does not take these opportunities lightly or for granted. She is our most consistent scorer and really just plays within herself. She does a great job getting herself open in transition as well as within our offensive sets. Her teammates have a great sense of where she is on the court and they all have great chemistry and a willingness to share the basketball.

“Although Sterling is our leading scorer, she would much rather win a game with her teammates then be the top scorer. She plays the game simply and takes what she is given and makes the most of it....

“I know that Sterling has aspirations to play at the next level, and there is no doubt that she has the potential to do so. She is a very hard working kid and I think any coach would be lucky to have her!”

Swift, who plans to study business or law in college, excels in the classroom as well as on the hardcourt.

“I’ve had straight A’s all the way through high school, she says. “I take advance placement classes, so I have over a 4-point [grade point average].”

Swift says her “dream college” would be situated in Southern California.

“I love the sun, my mom grew up down there, and we’ve always gone on vacation down there as kids,” Swift said. “But if it means playing basketball, I’ll go almost anywhere. I want to go where I can keep playing basketball.”

As far as her personal goal in athletics in high school, Swift says, “I’d like to be all-state-something, if not this year, then next year.”

And her goals for her high school team?

“Gill [Coliseum] and two state championships,” she says. “We’re going to do whatever we need to do to get there.”

Swift has been close to a state championship. Her freshman year she started on a La Salle team that lost to Cascade in the Class 4A championship final.

“It was nice [beating Cascade this year], because they beat us by two in the final my freshman year,” Swift said. “We were able to shut them down in the half court, and we were hitting our shots.”

Swift scored 28 points in the 73-55 win, hitting 9-of-13 field goals, including four 3-pointers; and going a perfect 6-for-6 from the charity stripe. The 73 points is the most points the Cougars have given up in 17 games this season.

Swift says of the early-season rout of La Grande, “We played really good defense. They couldn’t get it past half court and we were able to take it to the rack on them.”

She scored 24 points, hitting 9-of-16 shots, including three treys, in that game. She also had four steals, as the Falcons forced more than 30 turnovers.

The Falcons’ only losses this season came in a Dec. 3 game with Valley Catholic (53-46), a Jan. 5 game at fifth-ranked Banks (48-46) and in a Jan. 8 game at ninth-ranked Seaside (58-50). Valley Catholic is undefeated in 21 games this season and the Valiants are the top-ranked team in Class 3A.

“We played Banks and Seaside back-to-back and they both played a 1-1-3 zone that we hadn’t seen before,” Swift said. “We’ve been working on [playing against a 1-1-3 zone] almost every day now, because teams believe they can stop us with it.”

Swift says she believes this year’s team can become as good as the Falcon team that made the state final her freshman year.

“We’re smaller than that team,” she said. “We don’t have the two 6-foot players anymore. But I think we make up for it with heart. [Coach Wedin] stresses defense, and we’re really pushing the tempo....

“We’re playing a lot better defense than last year. If we keep working hard, I think we can get back to where we were [in 2011]. We’re getting there.”

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