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Youth is Served

A youth movement is evident in Medford high school girls basketball.

How far South Medford and North Medford go in the Southwest Conference and beyond with limited experience and seemingly unlimited potential, however, remains to be seen.

Both schools have 26 sophomores and freshmen on their three teams — varsity and two levels of junior varsity — yet each is expected to contend for a postseason berth.

"I think, realistically, we could be second," says third-year South Medford coach Tom Cole, "and realistically, we could be fourth. We're still very, very young."

Ditto North Medford, where second-year coach Kevin Dixon has the Black Tornado off to a 4-2 start.

"I think it'll come down to three of us battling for the second spot," he says. "We have young kids, but a lot of our young ones have played a lot of varsity minutes."

The SWC coaches see it similarly, according to a preseason poll.

The consensus No. 1 pick is South Eugene, which is ranked third in the state and returns a load of talent from last year's team that suffered its only loss in the Class 6A championship game.

South Medford was selected to finish second, followed by Sheldon and North Medford in the battle for four berths to the state playoffs. Grants Pass and Roseburg are expected to be on the outside looking in.

South Medford is 5-1, its lone loss coming in the opener to Thurston, the state's second-ranked 5A team. In that game, South Medford led by six at halftime before falling 59-49.

Cole has trotted out a different lineup each game, the lone constants being two freshman guards, Yaremi Mejia and Kylie Towry.

"We're still in the experimental stage of trying to figure out our best combinations, to say the least," says Cole.

Mejia and Towry made quite a splash in the opener, the former notching 10 points and 10 assists and the latter making four 3-pointers and leading the team with 16 points. Towry did the same thing Tuesday in a 78-46 rout of Mazama.

They were mainstays on an AAU eighth-grade team that was among the best in the Northwest last year.

"I don't know if there was a tournament where they didn't finish at least second," says Cole. "They've played a lot together and feed off one another. They have great chemistry together and have been winners."

South Medford also is among the SWC's tallest teams, with two sophomores, 6-foot-5 Tess Picknell and 6-3 Leilani Morris roaming the key. They gained starting experience last season, as did junior guard/forwards Hanna Curtius, who is 5-9, and 6-0 Jamee Batten.

Hannah Picknell provides more depth inside. The 6-2 senior scored 15 in a win over Ashland, including a game-winning three-point play.

The Panthers relied heavily on senior guards Brittney Newcomb, the state's third-leading scorer, and Sheena Barkley in 2008-09.

In their stead, the scoring has been spread around. Six players have reached double figures in the last three games.

There will be growing pains as the season progresses, but there are good signs already. South Medford has two one-point victories over tough 5A teams Summit and Ashland and also prevailed in a hard-fought, 46-42 test against Bend.

The task intensifies when the Panthers compete in the Nike Interstate Shootout, beginning Sunday against ninth-ranked Central Catholic.

"When we can get these kids to grow up and settle down and play to their abilities, I think we can be pretty good," says Cole.

There's a similar feeling at North Medford, where Dixon has a set starting five, and it includes a bit more experience than his cross-town counterpart enjoys.

Senior point guard Karissa Dixon, the coach's daughter, runs the show. Forward Alyssa Maurer, a junior, returns as a solid inside presence, and sophomores Amber Black and Becca Allen each saw extended varsity minutes a year ago.

They are joined in the starting lineup by 6-0 freshman post Maryssa Becker.

Dixon and Maurer each received all-conference recognition last year. Dixon was second team and Maurer honorable mention.

Dixon, who at 5-10 has a size advantage on most guards, averaged 10.8 points, four rebounds, five assists and four steals per game as a junior.

"We're pretty set there," says Kevin Dixon. "Karissa is a very good point guard, and that's kind of an important spot."

The 5-10 Maurer turned in a number of double-doubles last year and was tied for second in the SWC in scoring with an average of 11.6 points.

"She can step up and do a lot of things," says coach Dixon. "She's pretty athletic."

North Medford has plenty of other players to plug in, which could become especially important when facing the big South Eugene and South Medford lineups.

Alex Kummer is back after missing last year with an injury, and Kendra McMillen, an all-conference goalkeeper in soccer, is playing basketball for the first time since the eighth grade. At 5-8, McMillen is the first post off the bench.

Other reserves include junior Taylor Towe and two sophomores who saw extended playing time last season, Kendra Straub and Kelsie Bartley.

SOUTH EUGENE — The Axemen return all-SWC first-teamer Ellen Cook, a 5-11 junior wing, and second-team junior guard Olivia Roberts. Senior post Mackenzie Kerins is also a force.

South Eugene fell to perennial power Oregon City, 46-37, in the 6A title game last March.

The Axemen are only 5-3, but all of the losses are to out-of-state teams in national-level tournaments.

SHELDON — Cymone Martin, a 5-10 sophomore post who received honorable mention last year, leads the Irish. She has double-doubles in every game for the Irish (2-4), averaging 17.2 points and 12.3 rebounds.

Carlee Houser, a 5-9 senior wing, also returns as a starter for coach Luke Roth, who, in his 26th season, is the dean of Oregon girls coaches.

The Irish start one senior, three sophomores and a freshman.

GRANT PASS — The only returning starter for first-year coach Scott Wakefield is 5-9 wing Heather Wonsyld, a senior who was second team in the SWC last year.

Junior point guard Maricela Aguilera also got varsity minutes last season.

Only two other seniors are on the roster for the Cavers (2-3), and both start. They are post Katie Soares and guard Jessica Bath.

Wakefield was an assistant in the boys program for six years before taking over when Robert Lingo stepped down.

ROSEBURG — The Indians are looking for their first win, having dropped six straight games.

Freshman guard Shelby Snook has been a nice addition, leading the team in scoring. Included was a 24-point effort in the Indians' most recent game, a 43-40 loss to North Eugene.

Roseburg has decent athleticism and shooting ability, says coach Jeff Thomas, but lacks size.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com

South Medford's Hannah Picknell (54) is one of only three seniors on the varsity roster this season. - MT file photo