The Falcons return seven veterans; and three transfers make La Salle one of the deepest teams around

by: MILES VANCE - La Salle veterans Andrea Novak (15) and Natalie Schlechter (5) battle for a rebound in a game with Valley Catholic a year ago. The duo are among a host of experienced players returning to the Falcon varsity lineup this season.The athletes on La Salle Prep’s girls basketball team have set their sights on Gill Coliseum and the 2013 Class 4A State High School Basketball Tournament, and there’s good reason to believe that the Falcons will get there.

Their 10-player varsity roster includes seven players returning from last year’s team that fell just a game short of reaching Gill, and the team has been strengthened by the addition of three talented transfers.

“This year’s team would crush last year’s [La Salle] team,” said La Salle team co-captain Natalie Schlechter.

“We have a lot more depth,” team co-captain Ellie Mulvaney said. “We’re 10 deep. Even the bench are putting up points....

“We’re really quick. Our main strategy is to run teams out of the gym, tire them out.”

“I think we can compete with Gladstone and Madras for the Tri-Valley Conference title,” said La Salle first-year head coach Kelli Wedin.

“Our main goal is to improve on last year, get past the second round and get to Gill,” Schlechter said.

“I think we’ll definitely make it further than last year,” Mulvaney said. “Hopefully we’ll make it to the championship game.”

The Falcons do sport a veteran lineup. Seniors Natalie Schlechter (5-6 forward) and Ellie Mulvaney (5-4 point guard); juniors Sterling Swift (5-8 guard), Allison Ilg (5-4 point guard), Andrea Novak (5-10 forward) and Courtney Crain (5-4 guard); and sophomore MaKenzie Cook (5-6 forward) all lettered at La Salle last season. Six of the seven returning players saw a great deal of playing time last season.

And the lineup has been bolstered by the addition of three transfers — junior Morgan McSmith (5-9 guard, Sherwood), junior Katie Buerk (6-0 post, Cleveland), and sophomore Tori Goodman (5-8 point guard, Canby). McSmith and Buerk are both experienced in play at the varsity level.

Wedin has been starting Schlechter, Swift, Ilg, Novak and McSmith in early preseason games, although she insists that the fact that players are starting doesn’t mean that much.

“I’ve got lots of depth,” Wedin said. “I can play 10 kids. Everyone’s been getting solid minutes in every game.”

The Falcons have had at least eight players score in every game.

And the Falcons have been having their share of success, going 4-1, with wins over sixth-ranked Cascade (73-67), 10th-ranked Elmira (53-44), Stayton (90-29) and Central (73-67). In their only setback, they gave top-ranked and 2012 3A finalist Valley Catholic a run for its money in a 53-46 loss.

Swift, a three-year starter, has been a scoring machine. The junior speedster was averaging 24.8 points a game through the Falcons’ first five games, shooting 58 percent from the field — with 14 three-pointers, and 92 percent (24-of-26) from the free-throw line.

“Pace and conditioning are our strengths,” Wedin said. “The key is going to be defending in the half-court, rebounding, and limiting our turnovers.”

The Falcons have been building their success around their full-court defense. Through five games they had averaged 19 steals an outing.

Ilg has been impressive as the Falcon floor-leading, averaging 4.2 assists and 3.2 steals.

Novak has been a force on the inside, averaging 8.2 rebounds.

Next up for the Falcons is a three-day tournament, Dec. 27-29, at Sisters. Teams from Ridgeview, Henley, Redmond, La Grande, Junction City and Burns are invited to take part.

La Salle hosts Tillamook on Wednesday, Jan. 2. The Falcons have away games with Scappoose on Jan. 4, ninth-ranked Seaside on Jan. 8 and Astoria on Jan. 11.

The Falcons begin Tri-Valley Conference play on Tuesday, Jan. 15, when they play host to cross-town rival Gladstone.

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