Southern Oregon has been home to many prominent wrestling duals over the years, mostly thanks to the history of programs like Crater, Eagle Point...
Playing on a team that is more balanced than star-driven, South Medford senior Jesse Mondry still carries that certain game-changing quality all teams require.
At 6-foot-5 and 175 pounds, Mondry is as athletic as they come and unique in his effortless versatility. Of the No. 9-ranked Panthers, he's the one most likely to break away from the pack and rise above any situation but, to tell the truth, it's a tricky situation to be in.
On one hand there's the need to share responsibilities when your team is filled with capable playmakers. Then again, there's always that time when a leader needs to step up and take over a game for the betterment of his squad.
Somewhere in the middle this season has been Mondry, a second-year starting post who's willing to let his teammates shine while also making sure his voice is heard.
Mondry averages a team-best 12.1 points per game, which ranks fifth in Southern Oregon Hybrid boys basketball, to go with five rebounds. The Panthers also have three players who average at least seven points in Mark Winans (10.5 ppg), Adrian Garcia (8.2) and Matt Toreson (7.2), and it's hard to tell which aspect makes Mondry the happiest.
"One advantage we have against other teams is we do have depth on our team," says Mondry, 18. "Even our sixth, seventh and eighth guys coming in can all play and give us good minutes, which is really helpful."
That said, no one for South Medford can do what Mondry can do when he's on his game. He has worked hard to develop a potent pull-up jumper and can step out beyond the arc as well as power through the defense on the inside.
"There's no question when he gets it going he really can shoot it, especially the pull-up jumper, which is just such a lost art," says South Medford head coach Dennis Murphy. "Holy smokes, when he hits it it's nothing but net after net after net and he's going straight up and down. At times he does it as good as anyone I've ever had."
When Mondry is on, he provides a spark like no other.
"The better he becomes, the better we are," adds Murphy. "There's no question we need him out there and need him to perform each night."
It's a position Mondry appreciates but is still getting used to as the victories continue to pile up for the Panthers, who enter Friday's home game against Grants Pass at 14-4 overall and 6-1 in SOH play.
"I feel like as a team we're progressing and personally I'm just feeling more comfortable out there in a leadership role, having to be on the court for the whole game and trying to bring us together," says Mondry. "Murph's doing a really good job as a coach this year and I love to see the development we've had this year and the progress we've made."
Garcia says a large part of that is because Mondry is such a focal point for opposing teams, it opens things up for everyone else.
"Jesse's big for us," says Garcia. "Obviously teams want to focus on him and when they double-team, he kicks it out to one of us and we hit the shot and that just gets us all going."
When the ball remains in Mondry's hands, however, a number of possibilities arise because of his athleticism. Garcia says Mondry isn't really a three or a four (small forward or power forward), he's "more of a 31/2."
"He brings out their big man to guard him on the perimeter and then he can just go right by them or does his little pull-up jumper and that's deadly," adds Garcia.
However Mondry chooses to attack, one thing is clear, the Panthers want more and more of it as they wind down the regular season and set a course for a playoff push.
"As much as he's shown," says Murphy, "he still has a lot more that he can show."
And that's an exciting notion for someone who says he was "awkwardly tall and really skinny" when he first began playing competitive basketball in sixth grade.
"I really feel like this is something I've worked really hard for and spent a lot of hours in the offseason to prepare for my role to help our team out every night, both physically and mentally," says Mondry, who carries a 3.67 grade-point average. "It's been going great so far and it's going to be fun to see how far we can go and how well we can continue to compete because we're really clicking as a team right now."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry