North Marion girls lose back-to-back games after opening with a first-round win over Sprague

by: PHIL HAWKINS - North Marion senior Carlie Donnelly struggles to find a shot in the post against Western Mennonite's 6-foot-2 post Emily Loyd and 6-foot forward Amy Rausch. The Huskies went on the lose 45-26 to the Pioneers in the semifinals of the 14th annual North Marion Holiday Classic and finished in fourth place after going 1-2 in the tournament.North Marion girls basketball coach Dennis Melcher said he believes his team can earn the program’s first playoff appearance in six seasons.

On one important condition.

“If we stay healthy,” he said.

The Huskies weren’t granted that luxury at home Dec. 17, unable to overcome an injury to junior Marisa Jones in a 52-41 nonconference loss to Cottage Grove. Jones was able to return three days later to participate in the 14th annual North Marion Holiday Classic, but with just nine players on the varsity roster, North Marion (2-4) probably can’t afford to have much more trouble in the health department.

Reducing turnovers, executing with more precision on offense, closing out on opposing shooters — those are aspects of the game in which the Huskies will almost surely improve under Melcher’s guidance.

“By the end of the year, we should be pretty competitive,” said Melcher, who is in his 15th year at the helm of the program. “We might surprise some people once we get better.”

Jones looked as if she would be missing significant time after dislocating her right knee in grotesque fashion with 6 minutes, 19 seconds left in the second quarter against the Lions. It seemed a good sign for Jones that she was able to walk off the court on both feet, albeit gingerly, after a few minutes of medical attention.

Jones was held out of action in the team’s 50-35 win over Sprague in the first round of the tournament two days later, but she was available to play Friday night against Western Mennonite in a 45-26 loss for North Marion.

The Huskies went on to lose 50-12 Saturday afternoon to Regis to finish in fourth place at their home tournament.

North Marion has now lost four of their past five games, but their defeats have come against teams that are a combined 22-5 on the season. In the Holiday Classic, the Huskies dropped games to a pair of powerhouses that finished first and third in the 2A state tournament last year.

by: PHIL HAWKINS - North Marion's Kiley Florez had 15 points and nine rebounds against the Sprague Olympians Thursday night.With the return of Jones to the lineup, the Huskies are back to a full nine-girl roster with plenty of time to rest in the two weeks before the team’s next game on Jan. 3 at La Pine.

Melcher said he’s carried as many as 14 student-athletes on the varsity roster, but he decided to compete with nine this year to give developing players more floor experience in the junior varsity ranks.

“There’s a big gap (in skill level) from nine to 10,” he said. “But sometimes having a smaller roster helps because the players on the team know their roles better. And they’re not worried about who’s going to play or having to think, ‘Am I getting in tonight?’”

All eight healthy members of North Marion’s squad saw time on the court against Sprague to start the tournament, with each player scoring at least two points.

Versatile senior Michaela Meeuwsen had 10 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Huskies, while sophomore point guard Kiley Florez scored a team-high 15 and senior post Carlie Donnelly had seven.

Meeuwsen, who earned all-state honors as an infielder on the softball diamond this past spring, has been a reliable source of offense for a squad that lost first-team all-league guard Jasmine Florez to graduation.

The 5-foot-9 guard did much of her damage from the high post, pulling up for high-arcing midrange jumpers or driving into the lane for layups and floaters. She also added four steals, two blocks and three assists – all team highs – in the victory.

“She’s such a good athlete,” Melcher said. “She can score, rebound and defend. She’s been great.”

Florez, meanwhile, became the first Husky player other than Meeuwsen to lead the team in scoring.

The 5-foot-3 sophomore drained 1-of-2 3-pointers and hit all four of her free throws, in addition to pulling down nine rebounds in the game. Jessica Oliver was third on the team with eight rebounds, as the team outrebounded Sprague 42-to-24.

The victory was a great way to start the tournament after the Huskies’ nine-point loss to Cottage Grove two days earlier. Trailing by 16 points at halftime and falling behind 34-17 on a putback by Lions senior Natasha Cardwell, the Huskies engineered a 16-8 run to cut their deficit to nine on a free throw by senior Megan Schweighardt early in the fourth quarter.

Donnelly cut the Lions’ lead to 44-35 on a dribble drive with about five minutes left, but North Marion never got closer after that.

“We missed several lay-ins first half and didn’t shoot free throws at all,” Melcher said. “In the second half, we played better defense, started hitting some shots and battled back. The girls did a nice job.”

Much of the Huskies’ early deficit was due to the hot long-range shooting of Cottage Grove senior Kaitlyn Erner, who drained six shots from beyond the arc en route to finishing with a game-high 21 points.

North Marion faced a particularly maddening dilemma on defense. When it employed a zone scheme, Erner found openings on the perimeter. When it used man-to-man coverage, the Lions (5-1) capitalized on their size advantage down low.

“We decided (man-to-man) was the best way to go, and we were able to chip back into it and cut it to nine,” Melcher said. “But we couldn’t quite pull it off.”

Cottage Grove has caused repeated problems for the Huskies, who have lost five meetings in a row dating back to 2006. (Results in the series prior to that year were not immediately available.) In last year’s showdown, North Marion trailed by one at halftime but was outscored 27-11 in the second half of a 45-28 setback. Melcher’s team ended up with an 11-14 record and a loss in the play-in round for the second year in a row.

This time around, the Huskies took an early 4-3 lead on a layup by junior wing Marivi Rodriguez but fell behind for good on a three-pointer by Erner that ignited the Lions’ 26-9 surge to close the first half.

But Melcher, whose team defeated Colton in its opener Dec. 12 before falling to Redmond-Ridgeview a day later, saw plenty of encouraging signs in the third game of the year.

“We’re getting better,” he said. “We probably played our best half of the season so far in the second half. We had a hard time against them because they’re big. But we’ll get better.”

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