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High school sports round-up: Bucks cautiously optimistic after 4-1 start to the season

With a 4-1 record in the first two weeks of non-conference play, the St. Paul boys basketball team is enjoying its best start to the season since joining the Class 2A classification three years ago.

And while the Buckaroos have opened with a 3-2 record in each of the past two seasons only to finish the season at the bottom of the Tri-River Conference, this year's team may be different.PHIL HAWKINS - WOODBURN INDEPENDENT - Junior Jaidyn Jackson pesters an opponent during St. Paul's 55-49 winover Gervais. The Bucks are off to a 4-1 start.

"We do know statistically we're a lot better off than we have been the past couple years, mainly on the defensive end," SPHS coach Todd Swan said. "We're locked in defensively and I think we finally realize that everything we do starts at the defensive end."

The Bucks are coming off of back-to-back blowout wins in the Wildcat Challenge basketball tournament hosted by Southwest Christian School in Beaverton.

St. Paul beat New Hope Christian 70-24 on Friday and followed with a 49-24 win over the host Wildcats on Saturday. The Bucks claimed the tournament title over the same two teams in 2016, but needed close, single-digit wins to get there.

"I think it's huge just knowing that we're taking the next step where we're not sneaking by with wins," Swan said.

Still, there is an air of fool's gold in these wins that the Bucks are not ready to believe in just yet. In three seasons playing in the Tri-River Conference, the Bucks have three last-place finishes to their name.

For a 1A school that has shown its athletic programs can compete at the 2A level, the boys basketball program has been a rare exception. This year's Bucks are looking to change that as the team exits the 2A.

"We've taken pride in our program in the last year, really try to make St. Paul known for basketball," Swan said. "We're a football school and have had a lot of success, but our boys program has struggled record-wise the past couple of years and these boys are excited about improving and turning that around."

It helps that the Bucks are returning all but one starter from last year's squad. The Bucks have played together and have a tight-knit relationship in the locker room. The last step is taking all that and transferring it to the court.

"They've taken their bumps and bruises and they're ready to turn the corner for sure," Swan said. "They work hard. You won't see a team that works harder than them, and it makes it easy to coach."

Of course saying it and doing it are two different things and the six other Tri-River Conference teams are content to keep the Bucks stuffed down at the bottom of the standings.

Although the season is much longer than in football, Swan is hoping to employ the same mental approach of focusing on going 1-0 before each game.

"I think there were times last year where we looked ahead and in the process took a step back developmentally," Swan said.

Regardless of where the Bucks stand, Swan's goal is for the team to be competitive each and every game this season in order to demonstrate that St. Paul can compete in basketball the same way it does on the football field, the baseball diamond and the track.

To do so could be a springboard for the program's long-term health as it moves back to Class 1A in 2018-2019.

"The wins will come and the losses will come," Swan said. "But we're expecting it to be different than it has been in St. Paul for a long time."

Girls basketball

Southwest Christian 45, C.S. Lewis Academy 6 — Jamie Wooding scored four points and collected seven rebounds in the road loss Dec. 5.

Portland Waldorf 34, C.S. Lewis Academy 21 — The Watchmen trailed by three points at halftime, then the Wolfpack (2-1) exploded for 14 points in the third quarter and CSLA could not keep pace. Jamie Wooding paced the Watchmen (0-4) with 12 points and nine rebounds Dec. 7.

McNary 49, Newberg 24 — The No. 3 ranked Celtics (4-0) rolled to a home win Dec. 5.

Grant 58, Newberg 32 — The Tigers (0-3) were unable to avenge last season's loss to the Generals (2-1) in the first round of the state playoffs at home Friday night. Newberg travels to West Linn Wednesday and to Sherwood Friday.

Boys swimming

Newberg 127, Canby 86 — The Tigers swept all three relays and got individual wins from Trey Fincher in the 100 fly (56.20) and 100 backstroke (1:02.84). Zach Jordan also swept the 200 free and 50 free races, touching in 2:02.20 and 23.96, respectively. Zane Nygren also won the 500 free for Newberg, posting a time of 5:52.24 in the road win Dec. 7.

Girls swimming

Newberg 124.5, Canby 95.5 — A disqualification in the 200 free relay prevented a Tigers sweep in the relays, but Newberg won four other individual events to coast to a win. Tina Childress swept the 50 free and 100 free, winning in 25.5 and 55.08, respectively. Halle Harper won the 100 breaststroke in 1:19.71 and Nikki Rubottom took first in the 200 IM (2:27.04) to round out the effort. Newberg travels to Tualatin on Thursday.

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