Ninety straight victories. Nearly eight years without a loss.
The last time the South Medford girls basketball team dropped a conference game — Feb. 17, 2010 — AMC’s “Mad Men” was TV’s top show, Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner had just retired from the NFL, FarmVille was all the rage on Facebook, Susan Boyle was YouTube's darling and Octomom was a household name.
Fast-forward to 2018. Much has changed — not only in pop culture and headlines, but also with the Panthers’ roster, which has gotten younger to the extreme.
Specifically, all seven of the new faces on this year’s team are freshmen. The returning core consists of one sophomore and one junior. And that’s the whole kit and caboodle.
That said, there remains an abundance of talent. It starts with Ula Chamberlin, a 5-foot-8 junior guard who last year received all-state honors, was the SWC’s leading scorer and one of the top four scorers in the state.
The other returner is 5-9 guard Bella Pedrojetti, who is coming off an all-conference season as a freshman starter on last year’s SWC championship team.
Chamberlin, who averages 20.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game, and Pedrojetti (9.2 points per game) both have begun to garner NCAA Division I interest and offers, South coach Tom Cole said.
But for the Panthers to eight-peat as champion and keep their conference winning streak intact, much of the load will fall upon the shoulders of the freshmen, whom Cole expects eventually will become a Magnificent Seven.
“This group truly may be one of our most talented classes,” Cole said. “They will get thrown to the fire and be forced to grow up quickly. ‘No pressure,’ as I’ve told them."
South starts three freshmen: Kaili Chamberlin (9.2 points per game) — the talented younger sister of Ula — and 5-10 Shakia Perry (9.8 rebounds, 6.6 points per game) as forwards on the front line, in addition to fleet-footed guard Toni Coleman (9.1 points per game) in the backcourt.
Other freshman rotation players include guards Paisley Fish, Emma Schmerbach and Lani Dahlin along with 5-10 forward Evelyn Laupola.
South’s up-and-down preconference season — marked by three long road trips — has included moments of brilliance, such as a 72-40 victory over Nevada power Churchill County, sandwiched between setbacks, such as blown leads in the final minute twice against Enterprise of California.
“I don’t expect any miracles to happen overnight,” Cole said. “Hopefully these kids will grow up faster than some folks expect over a single season and that’s part of the challenge this team will have over the course of this year.”
Based on this year’s coaches poll, South enters this season as an underdog: Sheldon received four of seven first-place votes and was the top team with 34 points, followed by North Medford and South Medford with 28 points each, although North garnered a pair of first-place votes while South accrued only one.
According to Cole, sixth-ranked Sheldon is “definitely the best in conference this year” and the best Irish team he’s seen in at least eight or nine years.
The rest of the conference, Cole said, is characterized by plenty of youth and parity across the board, with the exception of North Medford, which has “a lot of leadership on the floor, which I think will keep them relevant.”
In terms of keeping the conference winning streak alive, Cole has no illusions about the challenge that lies ahead.
“Inevitably, the streak is always going to end,” he said. “We’re not good enough to be talking about a streak.”
North returns two starters, both second-team all-SWC players from a year ago, senior post Megan Fossen, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, and senior guard Rylee Karrick.
Seniors Julia Graff and Adriane McLemore add size and experience to North’s front line, and junior wing Talia Baker has emerged as the team’s defensive stopper. A pair of sophomores, Jane Ersepke and Abby Christiansen, are key perimeter players.
“This is probably the most experienced and talented team we’ve had since I’ve been back coaching,” North coach Tim Karrick said.
And for the first time since the season opener, the Tornado hopes to have a full complement of healthy players when it begins the SWC season today with a huge game at Sheldon.
In its most recent competition, at the Lake Oswego Nike Shootout, the Black Tornado faced several of the state’s top teams with mixed results, first getting blown out by top-ranked Southridge 59-23, then bouncing back with a signature 34-32 win over La Salle, followed by a 35-34 defensive grinder of a loss to Marist.
Grace Gaither, a junior transfer from Sherwood, has given Grants Pass a big boost of talent.
Gaither, who started for Sherwood last season, joins four returning starters — 5-11 senior post Alyssa Etheridge and juniors Ahdra Klingler, Ayla Klingler and Skylar Padgett — to give the Cavers one of the more experienced squads in the conference. Camdyn Bruner, a 5-8 sophomore, is a key reserve.
The Cavers have won six of eight games heading into conference and nearly beat seventh-ranked Jesuit early in the season. One loss came against Lebanon, which is undefeated this season.
Sheldon returns seven of 10 varsity players, including four starters — 6-foot junior forward Kami Walk and guards Aly Mirabile, Fallon Hanson and Macie Reinen — from last year’s conference runner-up squad.
The Irish enjoy a size advantage over their conference opponents, with returners Amber Winkler, a 6-1 senior, and Emma Neuman, a 6-0 junior, adding depth off the bench.
Makayla Scurlock, a sophomore guard, also returns from last year.
Sheldon’s nonconference schedule has included quality wins over Portland powers Grant and Jesuit.
Three returning starters — senior guard Jalen Robles, senior post Amaya Goins and junior post Samie Bergmann — lead a Roseburg squad that looks to be much improved from last year’s team, which tied with South Eugene for last place in conference.
The Indians have scraped out a winning record heading into conference but have yet to beat a team with a winning record.
Replacing the scoring of graduated Sydney Bowers is a primary challenge for South Eugene, which in the meantime will rely on defense to stay in games.
Hannah Stein, a sophomore guard, leads the defense, while Lindsey Galloway, a junior wing, is a solid outside shooter for the Axemen, who’ve already won more games this season (six) than all of last season.
As Willamette’s only returning starter, junior guard Jordan Morris will be counted on to provide leadership and solid ballhandling.
First-year starters for the Wolverines include sophomore guard Makenzie Crawford, a slasher on offense and tenacious perimeter defender; senior guard Lexy Sendrijas, a ballhandler and team leader; junior wing Taylor Smith, a transfer from Mississippi who often serves as defensive stopper; and sophomore center Natalie Willoughby, a developing 6-footer.
— Reach reporter Mike Oxendine at 541-776-4499 or email@example.com.