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New-look Panthers vie for same result

South Medford seeks to defend its title beginning tonight against Benson

While South Medford may be the reigning champions when it comes to large-school girls basketball, Panthers coach Tom Cole knows this year is a little different than the previous.

In the last season, South Medford didn’t even start playing until toward the end of May and wrapped up an undefeated season one month later with a stellar three-day run in the Class 6A/5A culminating week championships at Grant High School.

This season, it’s back to the grand stage of Portland’s Chiles Center, and all that comes with it.

South Medford (23-3) kicks off the Class 6A girls basketball state tournament at 6:30 p.m. tonight as the No. 3 seed against sixth-seeded Benson (21-4).

“It’s so different because of the stage that you’ve played on,” Cole said. “To win that tournament last year obviously required you to go out and do the same thing that it would require you to do this time, but the stage felt different and the times were different. I know how it feels walking into the Moda Center or the Chiles Center and when kids have not been in those kinds of situations playing responsible minutes in that area, it’s different … it just is.”

Two aspects that are very much the same for the Panthers entering this week’s state tourney will be the reliance on both ends of the court in junior guard Donovyn Hunter and senior post Sierra Logue.

Each played pivotal roles in South Medford’s run last summer and will be tasked with steadying the ship while their teammates settle in with vastly different roles than most carried into the last big tourney.

The 5-foot-11 Hunter leads South with nearly 22 points, five rebounds, five steals and two assists per game, while the 6-3 Logue averages about 14 points, nine rebounds and three blocks per game.

“Donovyn had a huge role in the success of that team last year, as well as Sierra,” said Cole, “but so did three or four other seniors who had more experience than our current group. Most of our other girls played in those games last year, but their roles are considerably bigger this year than they were with that group.”

Because of that slight unknown commodity, the Panthers find themselves in the unique position of not necessarily being the tournament favorites.

Beaverton carries the No. 1 seed, Jesuit is No. 2 and even Clackamas carries more buzz at No. 5 due to the star quality of 6-1 freshman Jazzy Davidson.

Clackamas beat South Medford 58-56 in overtime on Dec. 4, and Jesuit won 47-46 on Jan. 27 against the Panthers on a buzzer-beater by Emma Sixta.

Those remain the only two in-state losses for South, which did not have the services of senior Lottie Dillard (nine points, five rebounds, 1.4 steals per game) against the Cavaliers.

Kendall Fealey has averaged about seven points per game, while fellow junior Tatum Schmerbach has increasingly come on to average six points, five rebounds, two steals and two assists per game to help spur South.

“Last year we were definitely not under the radar,” said Cole. “That group was primed to take care of some unfinished business. This group is very different and they have been in the shadows and haven’t been the No. 1 team in the state. That works great for us because it does kind of feel like we’re the underdog.”

South Medford was able to topple Benson, 61-49, when the teams met Jan. 28 on Day 2 of a three-day swing through the Portland area by the Panthers that included games against Jesuit and Mountainside.

“They’re the most athletic team in the state,” Cole said of the Techsters. “I always think we play fast until we play a team like that who matches our speed and, in certain places, exceeds it. They’ve got some tremendous athletes and their group of kids have been growing since the first time we played them.”

Missing from that first matchup was 6-3 senior post Tait Quinlan, who pairs with 6-2 sophomore Mahogany Chandler-Roberts to give Benson a formidable force inside. Chandler-Roberts recently had 18 points to help the Techsters edge Jefferson, 64-62, in the second round.

“They’ve got some size and some athleticism and they really like to bring an intense defensive energy as well,” Cole said. “We’re familiar with them in some ways but now they’ve got a second tall tower there to deal with.”

Junior guard Malaya LeSueur helps make everything go for Benson, with Cole comparing her favorably to former St. Mary’s Academy and current Arizona standout Bendu Yeaney. The 5-9 LeSueur scored 22 points against Jefferson.

Have a story idea? Reach sports editor Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSouth Medford's Donovyn Hunter, seen here in a file photo from earlier this season, and the Panthers open up play at the Class 6A tournament against Benson.