Girls basketball program gains numbers, now looking for W’s

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home girls basketball team returns three players this season, but the program is bigger than it’s been in years.

The returnees are seniors Jordan Miller and India Porter, while senior Jessica Stockman returns after swinging from JV.

All three will start this year, with juniors Kaitlynn Autry and Brittany Brownell, who transferred to Sweet Home High School from South Albany High School this year.

The program has a total of 19 players, said Coach Steve Brown, and it will attempt to field three full teams. To do so will require coaches to juggle players and games. Each player can play five quarters per night.

With that situation, the remainder of the varsity squad will swing to JV. Those players include freshman Ally Tow, sophomores Melaney Wilson and Sarita Zanona and juniors Kayla Bennett and Kayleen Keeney.

Miller is a returning all-league honorable mention player, Brown said. “We have high expectations on her to be a team leader.”

Brown is hoping Porter matures into a stronger offensive player and rebounder, while Stockman has improved dramatically through off-season activity and will handle point guard.

Autry is a hard worker and a physical player, Brown said. “I think she’ll be good on defense.”

Brownell is a “pleasant surprise,” Brown said. “She’s kind of something of a physical player. She’s got skills, and she’s kind of a post player. She’s very coachable, and she brings some size.”

The Huskies finished with four wins last year, none in league.

Offensively, the team will rely on a read-and-react offense, which features cutting and passing, with all positions moving around the floor.

“I think that’ll help, so we don’t stand around,” Brown said. “We’re constantly moving. Things are happening. Back doors are opening.”

It’s a system new JV coach Dave McNeil brings to the program, Brown said, and he thinks McNeil will add great things to the program, getting the girls ready to play. McNeil moved to Sweet Home from Medford to teach at the high school. Harlee Brendle, who graduated last year, is assisting the team as a volunteer.

Brown said he’s excited about possibly attracting younger players into the program this year with McNeil as they develop camps and start reaching out to younger children.

“I’m glad McNeil’s here,” Brown said. “I think he’s a great asset and a great (science) teacher too.”

The offense features five areas around the perimeter, Brown said. The rule is to pass and move, pass and cut, with each player filling in behind, rotating opposite to the defense, the last while looking for high-percentage layups.

“They’re picking it up really well,” Brown said. Execution capitalizes primarily on fundamental skills.

Defense will default to man-to-man shifting to a 2-3 matchup zone as needed, Brown said. The team will need to be careful to stay out of foul trouble with its shallow depth.

Across the league, Sutherlin is the returning state champion, Brown said, and it lost only two players.

Elmira and Sisters are both down to two teams, Brown said, while Junction City is fielding three.

The Huskies are focusing on the fundamentals needed to run their new offense, Brown said. They’re working with McNeil on ball handling and fundamentals every practice. The drills they’re using are “basically our offense.”

“I am looking forward to winning out front and hopefully winning more league games this year,” Brown said. The team had its moments last year.

“We were close against Junction City,” Brown said. The Huskies played better against Sisters the second time around. “We were in it at times.”

The Huskies were most frustrated by Cottage Grove, he said.

Overall, the Huskies did pretty well, Brown said, but they need to keep building, noting that repetition breeds intuition.

“I enjoy being with them, and they’re a good group of girls,” Brown said, and the best thing is they’re having fun, something the new offense helps create.

JV players, some of whom will swing to JV 2 to field a third team, include freshmen Allyson Powell, Hailey Silver and Kayla Miller; sophomores Kaylee Lewis, Carissa Burge, Kylie Johnson, Jasmine Johnston; junior Hannah Burge; and senior Kanon Nakamura, an exchange student from Japan.