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Girls powerhouses clash tonight

No. 8 North Medford hosts fifth-ranked Crater for first place in SOC

Without question, they are the two best girls basketball teams in the Southern Oregon Conference.

The polls say they are among the top teams in the state.

They are North Medford and Crater, and they meet tonight at 7:30 in a North gym that is expected to be stuffed to the rafters with roughly 2,000 spectators.

Our kids have had their eyes on this game since the summer, Crater coach David Heard says. We're glad it's finally here.

The fifth-ranked Comets (10-1 overall, 4-0 SOC) have won the conference championship the past two years and are no strangers to big games.

No. 8 North Medford (11-1, 4-0) isn't as accustomed to performing on such a big stage, but the Black Tornado picked up a pair of standout transfers in the off-season -- center Ericka Brosterhous and point guard Dolinda Meeker. Their presence will likely negate any edge the Comets may have had in experience and poise.

We've got four senior starters and that should mean something, but I can't see their kids getting intimidated, Heard says.

The 6-foot-3 Brosterhous, who moved to Medford from Salem last summer, is averaging 17.9 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game.

Brosterhous, who is headed to Oregon State on a full scholarship, had some monster performances at the Westview Christmas Classic in Beaverton two weeks ago. She had 24 points and 16 rebounds in a 67-58 loss to No. 2-ranked Westview and then registered a season-high 28 points in a 49-47 victory over No. 6 South Eugene.

North Medford finished third in the high-profile tourney, while Crater took second.

Ericka has really stepped up her game the last few times out, North Medford coach Mike Kay says. She's been very active around the basket and her quickness gives other teams a lot of problems.

Meeker is averaging a modest 10.3 points per game, but the transfer from St. Mary's has excelled in other areas -- passing, stealing the ball, playing defense and setting up the offense, Kay says.

The 5-7 Meeker teams with 5-8 junior Ashlee Giles to give the Tornado the SOC's quickest and most athletic backcourt.

Giles has overcome a knee injury in soccer to become the Tornado's second-leading scorer at 10.9 points per game, but had a bad case of the flu earlier this week and is listed as questionable for tonight's game.

The Tornado's other starters are 5-10 junior wing Amy Dickerson and 6-foot senior Jenny Jackson.

Crater will counter with identical twins Cherrith and Chassie Wiersma in the backcourt, Caryn Ross and Teri Schneider at the forwards and Emily Wiley at center.

Chassie Wiersma (14.8 points per game), Ross (12.5) and Schneider (11.4) pace a balanced Comet scoring attack.

Crater has an edge in size and -- until its last two games -- has been a fine-shooting team, especially from the 3-point line.

Heard hopes to slow the pace against the quicker Tornado.

I love fastbreak basketball as much as anyone but it would be suicide to try that approach against them, Heard says. We've got to slow the game down, move the ball around and give our shooters some good looks.

The key for us is, can we break their press and get some good looks the basket? It's very important that we don't let them jump out to a big lead. Then we'd have to play catch-up and that plays right into their style.

Another concern for Heard is that 6-1 backup center Jamie Caster has been sick all week, meaning that 6-foot freshman Jody McLeod may be playing a lot of minutes subbing in for Schneider and Wiley.

Kay's biggest chore has been taking his newcomers -- Brosterhous, Meeker and South Medford transfer Katie Ledford -- and blending them with the other players. Would one

ball be enough to keep everyone satisfied? Where there enough minutes in a game to keep the players happy?

The Tornado very nearly got ambushed in its season-opener, escaping with an overtime victory at Del Norte, Calif.

Everyone kept saying how good we were going to be and we believed it, Kay says.

Halfway through the third quarter of that (Del Norte) game I turned to (trainer) Bill Miller and said, `Man, we're not any good at all.'

But it was a long bus trip, it was our first time out and we just hadn't been together enough to settle in. People forget that we lost four senior starters from last season that made one of the all-conference teams.

Heard and Kay know each other's players and coaching styles extremely well. They Coast. Brosterhous, Meeker, Ross, Schneider and Chassie Wiersma were all on the team.The two groups reacquainted themselves at the tournament in Beaverton.

We use one of their presses and they use part of our man-to-man offense, Kay says.

Dave and I have gotten to be friends and so have the kids.

But on the court, between lines, it's going to be all business.