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The Lions are looking to make a return trip to the Rose Garden with a young and hungry team

The West Linn girls basketball team enters the 2012-13 season with heightened expectations and with the experience that comes from reaching the status as one of the state's elite programs last year.

The Lions broke plenty of new ground last spring. The team made its first trip to the quarterfinals in coach Glen Lee's 12-year tenure with the team and it also broke its long losing streak against Oregon City.

In one of the more dramatic games in the program's history, West Linn mounted a brilliant fourth-quarter rally in the first round of the state tournament at the Rose Garden last year to knock off the favored Pioneers.

Now West Linn undergoes the challenge of replacing two key post players in Izzy Romero and Mikayla Kraemer, one of its top guards in Karly LeVeque as well as an unexpected loss.

In the team's second fall game earlier this year, point guard Brittany Smith went down with a torn ACL and she will miss the entirety of her junior year.

“Brittany's taking on a coaching role for us and mentoring the younger guards,” Lee said.

Losing one of the team's most dynamic playmakers is no doubt a blow but it doesn't dampen West Linn's expectations.

Lee has changed the offense around to accommodate the players who will step up in Smith's absence.

“It's going to be a team effort but we're really excited about the brand of basketball we're playing this year. It's more disciplined and fundamentally sound. We're attacking the basket more,” Lee said.

The Lions have a handful of guards with experience who will all see expanded roles this season.

Julia Boyd-Helm is West Linn's most seasoned returner with three years of varsity experience under her belt. She is one of the team's top defenders and can play anywhere on the court.

Junior Ashley Johnson also saw playing time as a freshman and is one of the league's top shooters. Sophomore Courtney Landis returns after recovering from her own ACL injury last year and should play a big role this season along with senior Megan Longtain and sophomore Sydney Kolasinski, who has made great strides in the offseason.

West Linn features just three seniors this year in Boyd-Helm, Longtain and Tara Sonnemaker.

The Lions figure to be an up-tempo team again this season, hoping to push the ball quickly up the court while hounding the opposition on defense.

“We'll still look to get out and go. We want to share the ball and pick and choose our opportunities,” Lee said.

Strong post play has been a calling card of the Lions for the past handful of seasons and, despite graduating two more strong posts last year, that position should be a strength again this winter.

Genna Hughes returns for her junior year after a very strong sophomore campaign and 6'3” Morgan Haskin could be primed for a breakout season.

“I think she's going to be a nice surprise for a lot of teams this year,” Lee said.

The Lions also feature two more six-footers in junior Hannah Matthiessen and freshman Kaylor McLaughlin.

West Linn will play another strong preseason schedule this year. The Lions open up by hosting their own tournament in the auxiliary gym as the main gym is still under construction following the fire earlier this fall and likely won't be ready until mid-December.

The Lions will play West Salem and either Tigard or St. Mary's. West Linn will also play in the annual Interstate Shootout at Lake Oswego which features nearly every one of the state's top programs.

“We're big on traditions in our program and so our goal is to get back to the Rose Garden and make that a tradition going forward. There's a tremendous amount of pride on this team and the kids are hungry,” Lee said.

In the Three Rivers League, Oregon City figures to be the favorite again and will be seeking a modicum of revenge against the Lions. Clackamas should also be strong while Canby and Lake Oswego both feature new coaches.

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