The Pioneers are short on experience at the varsity level, but overlook them at your own peril
Oregon City High School has graduated 11 players from last years varsity girls basketball team, including all five starters.
But anyone who believes the Pioneers will be pushovers this year may be in for a rude awakening. The Pioneers have reloaded, with a handful of players returning from last years varsity, along with some skilled players up from jayvee teams and freshmen teams that went a combined 27-0 last season.
Since we graduated so many seniors, people are thinking that were not going to be very good, said Oregon City senior Jessica Gertz. But I think were going to do really well. We had a really good summer, and that was a great start towards preparing us for the season.
When our first game rolls around, I know were going to be ready. Were all excited to be on the court again and, I think that if we continue working hard, like we have been, were going to have a really good season.
Our goals the same as it is every year, said Oregon City coach Kurt Guelsdorf. To win the state title.
The Pioneers have won trophies at Oregons big-school state tournament the last 28 years in a row and theyve won eleven state championships 1992, 1994-98, 2001-2004 and 2009. Theyve won Three Rivers League titles in 20 of the last 21 seasons.
Oregon City coach Kurt Guelsdorf says he believes his Pioneers could be state title contenders this year, along with South Medford, Westview, St. Marys, Clackamas, West Linn and South Salem.
I think well be in the mix [of teams contending for the state title], Guelsdorf said. I think well definitely be top five and, on any given day, I think we can beat anybody.
Its going to be a lot of fun [in league], because every games going to matter, said Oregon City senior Alyssa Durr. You cant come in and not be ready to go.... Clackamas is the only team thats given us a loss [in league] in years and theyll be tough again. And West Linn is coming on and theyre going to be very competitive. They beat one of our split teams in the summer and thats going to fuel our redemption.
Guelsdorf says hes got four players he considers NCAA Division I prospects in 5-11 senior wing Jessica Gertz, 5-7 sophomore point guard Cierra Walker, 5-10 sophomore post Taylor Shaw and 5-9 freshman point guard NDea Flye.
And he says that 5-6 senior point guard Toria Bradford and 5-8 senior wing Alyssa Durr have Division III potential.
Gertz, one of the first players off the bench last year, has already signed with NCAA Division I Long Beach University.
She came unto her own over the summer, averaging 23 points a game for an Oregon City girls basketball summer traveling team that went 33-7, with many of their games against club all-star teams.
Jessica played behind three Division I kids last year and now that theyve graduated, she gets her hands on the ball a lot more, and shes kind of taken over...., said Guelsdorf. She can hurt you from the outside, as well as on drives to the basket.
Cierras only a sophomore and shes already getting a ton of interest from D-I coaches, Guelsdorf says of Walker, who saw big minutes on varsity as a freshman. Shes probably as good as a sophomore as [two-time TRL Player of the Year] Montana Walters was, and maybe even better. I dont know if Ive ever seen a better shooter than Cierra. She may be the best shooter Ive ever coached.
Since first grade, basketballs always been a part of my life, said Walker. I work hard every day to try and be a better basketball player and a better person.
Taylor is really athletic, Guelsdorf said of Shaw. She can jump out of the gym. Shes going to help us a lot once she gets healthy.
Shaw, who helped lead Oregon Citys jayvee to a 24-0 record last winter, is battling to overcome a hip-flexor strain, Guelsdorf said.
He said of Flye, Shes a tremendous athlete. She attacks the basket relentlessly and she is a tremendous offensive rebounder.
Bradford saw a decent amount of playing time last year, as back-up point guard to Walters; Durr, with two years of varsity experience, also saw her share of playing time last season.
Among others Guelsdorf lists as top prospects for the Pioneers this winter are: junior Lucy Kleiner (5-8 wing); and sophomores Lindsi Peters (5-5 point guard), Jordan Kelly (5-8 wing), Katie Kammerer (5-10 post) and Taylor Knighton (5-9 post).
Last year we were very dominant inside, said Guelsdorf. This year were not as big in the paint, but were more athletic.... Were going to be doing what we always do. Were going to be getting up and down the floor, only doing it a little faster.
With four guards, were a lot quicker on the floor and our press break, said Durr.
The team is totally different, said Gertz. Were not very big, but everyones a really good hustler, so well get a lot of hustle points.... Weve got people diving after loose balls and, if they dont know what the play is, theyre still going hard and doing what they can to make things happen.
The Pioneers have over a month to get up to speed for their league opener, a Jan. 17 game at Lakeridge.
They begin play tonight with a jamboree and they entertain Jesuit this Friday.
They travel to Phoenix for a tournament just before Christmas, and they vie in a tournament in Delaware after Christmas.
Theyll find out how they stack up with the states best on Jan. 14, when they play Westview on the road.
A lot of people dont expect much from us because of our inexperience and lack of size, said Durr. But we have a lot of heart and I think that will take us a long ways.
Bradford issued this warning to Oregon City opponents: Dont underestimate us. We work really hard in practice and were going to bring our all every time we step of the floor.
Im really excited to see what we can do, said Gertz.
Gertz said that team rebounding will be pivotal in the amount of success the Pioneers have this season.
Last year we could always count on [graduates] Jo [Paine] and Catelyn [Preston] to get the rebound, she said. This year we need everyone to crash the boards a team effort on rebounds. And were going to have to limit our turnovers.
The key for us will be working on the little things, said Gertz. Hitting our 3s, finishing the easier shots, and playing like Oregon City always does, with a lot of heart and intensity.
I think well have a good chance this year at state, if we keep working hard and giving 110 percent every day, said Walker. I think we can be a really good team.... We just have to work hard and push each other.
Walker said of her goals for the team: To win state and go undefeated in league, to become closer as a team, and to become the best team we can possibly be.
Walker said her goals of going undefeated in league and winning state are for this year AND the next two years.