But they like their chances

by: JOHN DENNY - Clackamas veterans (from left) Sydney Azorr, Erica Pagano and Kaitlyn Reiner believe the Cavaliers have the horses to unseat Three Rivers League champion Oregon City this season.Clackamas High School girls basketball coach Todd Lane says he expects the Three Rivers League title-chase to be a dogfight this winter, with his Cavaliers, West Linn, Canby and Oregon City all in the hunt.

I think the Three Rivers League is going to be highly competitive,” Lane said. “Oregon City, West Linn and Canby I think are all going to be very good teams. West Linn and Canby have a lot of returning players and senior leadership. And Oregon City hasn’t won 19 of the last 21 league titles for nothing.

“I know a lot of people say their program is down. But they aren’t going to give up that league title to anybody if they can help it. I definitely think Oregon City will be in the hunt again....

“We’re going to compete. And if we play as hard as we can every night, we’re going to figure in that mix with those teams.”

“I have friends who play for Oregon City, West Linn, Lake Oswego and Canby and we all agree the Three Rivers League is going to be the toughest league in the state....,” said Clackamas senior Erica Pagano. “I’m really looking forward to league. It should be a lot of fun.”

The league season doesn’t begin until mid-January, and the Cavaliers will have plenty of competition to get them ready for league.

“We’ve got a very tough preseason schedule,” said Lane. “We could end up playing eleven top ten teams from 6A and 5A in our 14 nonleague games.”

Clackamas begins play this Thursday at 8:45 p.m., battling South Salem in a first-round game of a tournament at Southridge.

“They’re a top five team,” said Lane. “They’ve got one of the top players in the state in (6-2 guard) Katie McWilliams. She can shoot lights out.”

The Cavaliers have graduated playmaking guard Deeshyra Thomas, who was arguably their top player last season. But they are not without talent.

Among the returnees are three players who garnered all-league recognition last year — seniors Kaitlyn Reiner (5-5 point guard/wing), Sydney Azorr (5-9 wing) and Pagano (6-0 post).

Reiner and Azorr will be seeing their third year of starting action this winter.

All three have signed letters of intent to accept scholarships to play basketball in college, Reiner with Colorado-Mesa, Azorr with Western Oregon and Pagano with Seattle Pacific.

Azorr and West Linn senior guard Ashley Johnson are the only first-team all-league players returning from last year’s TRL all-star team. Reiner made last season’s TRL second all-star team as a point guard; Pagano garnered honorable mention in the 2013 league all-star balloting.

The Cavaliers return six other players with varsity experience: juniors Erin McDonald (5-9 point guard), McKenzie Giancola (5-9 wing), Jordan Rasberry (5-11 post) and Kaleah Walterman (5-8 post); and sophomores Peyton Carroll (6-3 post) and Marissa Kelly (5-8 point guard/wing).

Rounding out the roster are freshmen Miranda Dahmen (5-10 post) and Maddie Oakden (5-7 wing).

“We only lost three players [to graduation],” said Reiner. “They were impact players, but we have younger players who have stepped up and are ready to come in and fill the spots that needed to be filled. There’s really not a weak player on the team.”

“I’m really excited!” said Pagano. “I’ve been really surprised with how well we’ve been doing in practice — playing together. Practices have been great!”

Comparing the team to last year’s team that placed sixth in the state, after finishing second to Oregon City in the TRL, Lane said, “We’re not as fast as last year, but I think we’re better shooters, and I think we’re a little deeper....

“We’re still going to push, and play as fast as we can.”

“I actually think we’ll be better than last year, because we’re more consistent and because of the way we play together,” said Reiner. “We don’t have a star player, but our teamwork is really good.”

“I think we’ll be better than last year,” said Azorr. “Everyone works really hard, and I would say that we are better now than we were at this point last year. We work really hard and everyone is really talented.”

Lane said he believes he’s got the talent to go nine deep without the level of play dropping off much.

“Oregon City’s always good, but I think this could be the year we beat Oregon City,” Pagano said. “They’ve graduated their five starters. They’ll still be good, but I think we have the players that could do it.”

“I think we have a shot [at winning a state title],” said Azorr. “We have to make it to the Rose Garden first. But if we make it there, I do feel we have a chance.”

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