The Pioneers are short on experience at the varsity level, but overlook them at your own peril

by: JOHN DENNY - Returning players (from left) Alyssa Durr, Jessica Gertz, Cierra Walker and Toria Bradford say they believe Oregon City High Schools girls basketball team will be highly successful this winter, despite inexperience and a lack of size.Oregon City High School has graduated 11 players from last year’s 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 year’s 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 we’re not going to be very good,” said Oregon City senior Jessica Gertz. “But I think we’re 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 we’re going to be ready. We’re all excited to be on the court again and, I think that if we continue working hard, like we have been, we’re going to have a really good season.”

“Our goal’s the same as it is every year,” said Oregon City coach Kurt Guelsdorf. “To win the state title.”

The Pioneers have won trophies at Oregon’s big-school state tournament the last 28 years in a row and they’ve won eleven state championships — 1992, 1994-98, 2001-2004 and 2009. They’ve 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. Mary’s, Clackamas, West Linn and South Salem.

“I think we’ll be in the mix [of teams contending for the state title],” Guelsdorf said. “I think we’ll definitely be top five and, on any given day, I think we can beat anybody.”

“It’s going to be a lot of fun [in league], because every game’s going to matter,” said Oregon City senior Alyssa Durr. “You can’t come in and not be ready to go.... Clackamas is the only team that’s given us a loss [in league] in years and they’ll be tough again. And West Linn is coming on and they’re going to be very competitive. They beat one of our split teams in the summer and that’s going to fuel our redemption.”

Guelsdorf says he’s 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 N’Dea 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 they’ve graduated, she gets her hands on the ball a lot more, and she’s kind of taken over....,” said Guelsdorf. “She can hurt you from the outside, as well as on drives to the basket.”

“Cierra’s only a sophomore and she’s already getting a ton of interest from D-I coaches,” Guelsdorf says of Walker, who saw big minutes on varsity as a freshman. “She’s probably as good as a sophomore as [two-time TRL Player of the Year] Montana Walters was, and maybe even better. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a better shooter than Cierra. She may be the best shooter I’ve ever coached.”

“Since first grade, basketball’s 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. She’s going to help us a lot once she gets healthy.”

Shaw, who helped lead Oregon City’s jayvee to a 24-0 record last winter, is battling to overcome a hip-flexor strain, Guelsdorf said.

He said of Flye, “She’s 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 we’re not as big in the paint, but we’re more athletic.... We’re going to be doing what we always do. We’re going to be getting up and down the floor, only doing it a little faster.”

“With four guards, we’re a lot quicker on the floor and our press break,” said Durr.

“The team is totally different,” said Gertz. “We’re not very big, but everyone’s a really good hustler, so we’ll get a lot of hustle points.... We’ve got people diving after loose balls and, if they don’t know what the play is, they’re 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.

They’ll find out how they stack up with the state’s best on Jan. 14, when they play Westview on the road.

“A lot of people don’t 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: “Don’t underestimate us. We work really hard in practice and we’re going to bring our all every time we step of the floor.”

“I’m 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 we’re going to have to limit our turnovers.”

“The key for us will be working on the little things,” said Gertz. “Hitting our 3’s, finishing the easier shots, and playing like Oregon City always does, with a lot of heart and intensity.”

“I think we’ll 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.”

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