PHOENIX — There is no truth to the rumor Kaylene Ritter also sells popcorn during halftime of her girls basketball games at Phoenix High, but given her versatility, one wouldn’t put it past the versatile 17-year-old senior.
When it comes to having an impact on all phases of the game, few in the Rogue Valley can compare to the one Ritter has with the Pirates in only her second season at the Class 4A school.
Picking up where she left off a season ago, Ritter stands as Phoenix’s team leader in points (21.3), rebounds (5.3), steals (4.7) and blocks (2.4) per game and is second in assists (1.7) as the Pirates prepare to open Skyline Conference play Wednesday by playing host to Hidden Valley.
In a 79-33 win over Sweet Home on Dec. 9, Ritter scored a school-record 41 points with 11 steals in only three quarters of play. The previous record of 40 points was set in 2007 by Chelsea Passante.
“Since she came in with us last year she’s been an integral part of our team,” says Phoenix head coach David Alexander. “We run a lot of our sets through her to get her open shots and she draws a lot of attention to her and that helps to set up other players for their shots.”
The key for the 5-foot-9 guard, according to her coach, is how active she is in all phases of the game for Phoenix (4-6).
“That’s a rarity to lead us in so many areas from the guard position and that speaks volumes for her being able to play both ends of the court,” says Alexander. “We play a lot of zone defense and she’s usually up at the top and to be able to get down there for offensive and defensive rebounds and start the break or other times she has to be the one finishing the break … that’s a lot of really hard work.”
“She does all this and other teams know she’s going to do it and yet she’s still able to do it,” adds the coach. “She’s a very smart player and knows when to pick her spots and when she needs to turn it on or when to step back and let her other teammates take over. She’s a pretty special player for us.”
That special ability was formed through daily interactions of a very athletic family that has seen older sisters Jenni and Andee play collegiate basketball while Stefani is a collegiate cross country runner.
To wit, Andee Ritter tied a single-game school record with seven 3-pointers for UC Irvine on Saturday in a 76-58 loss to UC Riverside. The sophomore matched her personal bests with 23 points and three blocks in going 8-for-15 from the field and added three steals and three rebounds while committing only one turnover.
Andee Ritter, who was already coming off being named the Big West Women's Basketball Player of the Week, is on pace to break the 28-year old program record of 64 3-pointers and is tops in the Big West in 3-pointers made (44) and steals (37).
“I look up to my sisters and seeing what they’ve done, whether it’s been in basketball or cross country, I’ve always just wanted to do as good as they have,” says Kaylene Ritter, who is the last of the bunch.
“Sometimes it’s hard because she’s so good and it’s a lot to stand up to,” she adds of following in Andee’s footsteps, “but I’m proud of her and I’m so happy I’m her younger sister.”
Ritter had been part of the South Medford program through her sophomore year but turned to Logos Charter School and eventually Phoenix High to continue her educational and athletic pursuits. She hopes one day to work in veterinary medicine.
“I’m really happy with how everything has worked out,” she says. “I love my team and my coach and everything.”
“I definitely feel like it’s opened up a lot of opportunities to me because I’ve become more confident as a basketball player,” Ritter adds of the move. “I’m definitely more of a leader than I was at South. It’s really helped me grow as a basketball player because before I didn’t really do that much on the court, it was basically just shoot when I could. Being at Phoenix, I get to play hard in every position and it’s just opened up a lot of opportunities for me.”
That’s not to say Ritter hasn’t missed many things about South Medford, especially Class of 2017 teammates Lauren Orndoff, Hannah Washington and Jonnay Foote.
“I’m proud of them and proud of how they’ve been doing,” she says of her ex-Panther teammates. “Sometimes I think about being sad not having them with me but I’m happy where I am and I think this is how it was meant to be.”
Phoenix struggled to secure wins last year, finishing 7-17 overall and 1-9 in Skyline play, and that proved to be an adjustment for Ritter. With a year in the program under her belt, and all better prepared for what to expect, Ritter says she’s hoping the Pirates can sneak up on a few teams before the season is over.
“We’ve definitely improved a lot since last year and I think that we can do really good this season,” she insists. “People aren’t going to expect that but I’m really excited about what we can do.”
Part of that progress will be in how Ritter and her Pirate teammates face the slew of box-and-one defenses that seem to be a magnet these days for the young standout.
“Our other players have to be ready for the challenge and be ready to step up when it’s their time,” says Alexander, “and Kaylene has to be of the mindset that it’s coming and accept the challenge when everyone puts their best player on her.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry