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Comets' stock rising in SOC

Crater tabbed favorite to win SOC girls title

Ashland and Crater figure to dominate Southern Oregon Conference girls basketball this season like the United States and Russians dominate space.

Ashland gained a share of its first SOC championship last winter and managed to play four games at the state tournament.

But even with Ashland's starting lineup returning intact, the SOC coaches narrowly picked Crater to capture its fourth crown in five years.

It's flattering that people think enough of us to vote us No. 1, says Crater coach David Heard. But we're a bunch of sophomores and juniors and Ashland is a team with 60 percent of the first-team all-conference players coming back.

Although there isn't a senior on the roster, the Comets are experienced having played in a variety of summer tournaments.

I think we'll see improvement from week to week, Heard says. Sometimes with older kids you won't see that much improvement.''

The Comets return four regulars from last year's third-place team that beat Ashland on the final night of the regular season.

Crater also picked up two sophomore transfers -- forward Amy Denson from Klamath Union and point guard Sarah Pool from Bend -- that figure prominently in Heard's nine-player rotation.

Crater should be good with their transfers, Ashland coach Heather Roberts says. Both teams have talent. I think (Crater) has more talent and size and I think we have more experience and speed. It's a matter of who uses their strengths the best.

Even if Crater wins its first 13 SOC games, Heard figures it will come down to the final contest at Ashland.

I think everybody will see that skill-wise Ashland has a better top-five than anybody in the league, Heard says. Last year, depth was a question and still maybe this year. Last year, they were able to get through without any injuries and getting hurt by foul trouble.

Needless to say, Crater's visit to Ashland on Feb. 18 is a red-letter day for the Grizzlies.

It's senior night, or last home game, Roberts says. We know that date.

A year ago, Heard was forced to throw a bunch of freshmen and sophomores into the fray after graduating four starters from the 1998 state runner-up squad. But the hard knocks the youngsters took in the early going were forgotten as the Comets charged into the playoffs.

We're still immature and that's going to bring about inconsistency, Heard says.

Sophomore Sarah Yager (8.5 points, 4 assists per game in the 1998-'99 season) has moved from the point to shooting guard, which should give her more scoring opportunities.

She's also our best defender, Heard says. Now she doesn't have to expend as much mental and physical energy bringing the ball up the floor. It frees her up on defense and makes us a little quicker.

A year ago, 6-foot junior Jody McLeod (5.7 rebounds) was nursing an ankle injury the first half of the season. She has no such problems this year heading into Tuesday's league-opener at home against Roseburg.

She's a great jumper and a great rebounder, but sometimes it's difficult against kids that are 6-3 or 6-4, Heard says. She's going to be the recipient of some good passes and she's a good finisher.

Holdovers Addie Wiersma (4.2 ppg) and Janell Sapienza (3.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg) give the Comets plenty of firepower in the backcourt, while junior forward Skye Hemphill (3.6 ppg) and sophomore center Brandi Hall lettered last year as well. Bre Johnson, at 6-2, is the tallest player in the mix.

Denson (9.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg) earned honorable mention SOC honors last year.

She doesn't have any real weakness in her game, Heard says.

Pool was honorable mention in the Intermountain Conference.

She's adjusting to the fact that wherever she passes, those people can finish, Heard says. Which is a plus that she's still getting used to.

Ashland blew away a lot of opponents last season until it hit a late-season bump en route to tieing North Medford with an 12-2 record. But the Grizzlies came back to beat the Black Tornado in a playoff to earn their first trip to the state tournament.

Point guard Jenny Pippa, wings Kirsten McNaught and Hanna Seltzer along with posts Chelsea Morgan and Jackie Woods were integral parts of the lineup last season. Pippa (12.6 ppg, 3.4 reb, 6 apg) and Morgan (13.1 ppg, 7.4 reb) are starting for the fourth year, while Seltzer (9.5 ppg, 9.7 reb, 6 apg), Woods (13.1 ppg, 6.3 reb, — apg) and McNaught (5.5, 2.7 rpg) saw plenty of playing time two years ago.

Morgan, Pippa and Woods we're first-team SOC all-stars.

The kids have high expectations for this year, Roberts says. I thought we would have better depth, but some kids left and we have the same situation. But our starting five is better than last year.

Our chemistry is good because the kids genuinely like each other. Another thing is that after four years someone might say, `I've heard it all blah, blah, blah.' But what I sense with these kids is that they want to work hard and keep going.

Pippa can drive, dish or hit from the outside. Seltzer is a deadly shooter from the outside and a tormenting defender. McNaught might be the most improved of the bunch.

Kirsten is so much more aggressive now, Roberts says. She's not an outgoing aggressive person by nature, where the other four are. But she stepped outside her comfort zone (at the Crescent Valley tournament).

Morgan began in the backcourt as a freshman and moved to the post last year, where she makes up for a lack of height (she's listed anywhere from 5-8 to 5-10 depending on the sport) with quickness.

The offensive powder keg is Woods, a quick, powerful 6-footer.

Last year, she was immature and not real coachable, Roberts says. Through the first five weeks of this year, she's been one of the most coachable. She's emerging as one of the leaders on the team. It's really nice to see that. Physically, she can do anything she wants. I don't think anyone can stop her.

Not everybody is willing to concede the farm to the Comets and Grizzlies.

I think they're beatable, definitely beatable, South Medford coach Andrea Wegner says. I don't think anybody is going to beat them twice. But I think somebody is going to pick them off; you just have to catch them on the right night. Crater showed the other night (in a 59-51 loss to North Bend on Dec. 4) that they're not going to walk through the league or state.

The third and fourth playoff berths should be tightly contested.

With six teams fighting for the other two spots, Klamath Union coach Jack Sharp says, every game is a key game.

South Medford is picked a step ahead of North Medford for third, but the Panthers and Tornado can expect plenty of company in the standings.

The Medford schools' share a similar problem -- depth.

We're not real deep and the bench is going to have to mature quickly, Wegner says. Our first six or seven players are going to have to stay on the floor and not get into foul trouble.

Senior center Lynn Wooton has averaged 15.8 points in five non-conference games this season. Juniors Kellie Thomas and Heather Fossen are also capable of offensive outbursts. The Panthers also await the return of Colleen Salisbury, whose soccer ankle injury will sideline her for another two weeks.

North Medford is riding a string of four straight state playoff appearances. In order to extend the streak, the Tornado will need a strong defensive effort every night out, says first-year coach J.T. Thomas.

Senior center Tressa Manwaring (8.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg) will be asked to carry much of the offensive load. Junior center Ashley Nelson (5.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg) is recuperating from a broken right hand and should give immediate help on the offensive end when she returns.

Like South, the Tornado lacks depth and that will mean Tennille Bennett and Jamie McLauchlan will put in long stretches much of the season.

Eagle Point is young and second-year coach Tom McCracken appears to be setting the table for the future. But the Eagles have a scoring machine in senior post Dusty Damon, who is averaging 21.6 points heading into SOC play. Senior point guard Stephanie Lucas is scoring at a 13-point clip.

We're so little, but we're doing a much better job of taking care of the ball than last year, McCracken says.

Grants Pass enters conference play counting on veteran guard Kaci Williams, averaging 13.2 points after five contests.

— — — — — —

— — Ashland

— —

Coach-- Heather Roberts — (fourth year).

Current Record-- 1-1

Returning starters-- Chelsea — Morgan, 5-8, sr., post; Hanna Seltzer, 5-7, jr., wing; Kirsten — McNaught, 5-7, sr., wing; Jenny Pippa, 5-4, sr., guard; Jackie — Woods, 6-0, jr, post.

Returning SOC all-stars-- — Pippa, first team; Woods, first team; Morgan, first team; Seltzer, — second team.

Returning lettermen-- Jessica — Bullen, 5-6, jr. wing.

Key newcomers-- Lindsay — Huyett, 5-7, jr., wing; Christina Kalemkeris,, 5-10, so., post; Drew — Larson, 5-9, jr., post.

— — Crater

— —

Coach-- David Heard (sixth — year).

Current

Record-- 4-1

Returning starters-- Sarah — Yager, 5-6, so., guard; Jody McLeod, 6-0, jr., center; Addie Wiersma, — 5-9, so.; Janell Sapienza, 5-7, jr., forward.

Returning SOC all-stars-- — McLeod, second team; Yager, honorable mention; Amy Denson, honorable — mention.

Returning lettermen-- Skye — Hemphill, 6-0, jr., forward; Brandi Hall, 6-0, so., forward.

Key newcomers-- Denson, 6-2, — so., forward, transfer from Klamath Union; Sarah Pool, 5-6, so., — guard, transfer from Bend; Bre Johnson, 6-2, jr., center.

— — Eagle Point

— —

Coach-- Tom McCracken (second — year).

Current Record-- 4-1

Returning starters-- Dusty — Damon, 5-9, sr., center; Stephanie Lucas, 5-5, sr., guard.

Returning SOC all-stars-- — Damon, second team.

Returning lettermen-- — Michelle Morton, 5-7, junior, forward; Danielle Rouhier, 5-7, so., — guard; Ginny Groves, 5-9, sr., forward.

— — Grants Pass

— —

Coach-- Shaun Gross (second — year).

Current Record-- 3-2

Returning starters-- Kaci — Williams, 5-5, sr., guard; Alicia Pilcher, 5-11, jr., post; Kim — Moser, 5-11, sr., post; Casey Higgins, 5-10, jr., forward; Dane — Thomason, 5-7, junior wing.

Returning SOC all-stars-- — Williams, third team; Plicher, honorable mention.

Returning lettermen-- Colleen — Davidson, 5-10, sr., post; Johnna Nealy, 5-7, jr., wing; Jeannelle — Thompson, 5-7, jr., wing; Megan Moon, 5-9, so., post.

Key newcomers-- Alison — Klingel, 5-8, so., point guard, transfer from North Valley; Kara — Debo, 5-5, jr., guard.

— — Klamath Union

— —

Coach-- Jack Sharp (13th — year).

Current Record-- 3-2

Returning starters-- Sam — Gilbert, 5-7, jr., guard.

Returning SOC all-stars-- — Gilbert, second team.

Returning lettermen-- Annie — Kellstrom, 5-7, sr., forward; ; Kate Richards, 6-1, sr., center; — Amber Vieia, 5-6, jr., forward; Grace Fagan, 5-9, jr., guard; Alycia — Spires, 5-8, jr., forward; Cassie Sharp, 5-8, jr., forward; Lynne — Putnam, 5-5, sr., guard; Catie Dearborn, 5-5, sr., guard.

Key newcomers-- Heidi — Brookshire, 5-10, jr., forward, transfer from Wilsonville; Megan — Leppert, 5-11, so, forward.

— — North Medford

— —

Coach-- J.T. Thomas (first — year).

Current Record-- 2-3

Returning starters-- Ashley — Nelson, 6-0, jr., post; Tressa Manwaring, 6-0, sr., post.

Returning lettermen-- Jenny — Ross, 5-10, sr., post; Jamie MacLauchlan, 5-8, sr. guard; Kara — Hwang, 5-11, jr., forward; Tennille Bennett, 5-5, sr., point guard.

Key newcomers-- Cari Jones, — 5-7, sr., guard; Kelsey Versteeg, 5-10, junior post.

— — Roseburg

— —

Coach-- John Thomas (18th — year).

Current Record-- 3-1

Returning starters-- Erin — Goodell, 5-5, jr., guard.

Returning lettermen-- Sarah — Gilding 6-1, jr., guard; Amy Bradburn, 5-9, sr., wing; Meg Makinson, — 5-1, sr., wing.

Key newcomers-- Angie — Thomason, 5-4, sr., wing; Lindsey O'rne, 5-3, sr. wing; Lindsey — Heard, 6-1, so., wing, transfer from Umpqua Valley Christian; — Shannon Burmeister, 6-0, so., point guard; Jessica Fisiikava, 5-9, — fr., point guard-wing.

— — South Medford

— —

Coach-- Andrea Wegner (third — year).

Current Record-- 2-3

Returning starters-- Lynn — Wooton, 6-0, sr., post; Kellie Thomas, 5-11, jr., guard; Karla Zenz, — 5-11, jr., post.

Returning SOC all-stars-- — Thomas, third team.

Returning lettermen-- Heather — Fossen, 5-6, jr., guard.

Key newcomers-- Whitney — Grant, 5-6, so., guard;, Colleen Salisbury, 5-5, so., guard; Amber — Hunt, 5-9, jr., post; Shannon Adams, 5-8, sr., guard; Stephanie — Cohee, 5-10, sr., post.