by: COURTESY OF BETH MUMFORD - Portland Christian starting lineups are introduced before a recent game, with Demi Guild (21) about to greet teammate Lilly Funk (10) and coach Jim Hill (right).Jim Hill says he wasn't expecting much from his Portland Christian High girls basketball team this season.

"They continue to surprise me," he says.

The Royals are 13-3 overall, second in the Class 2A Northwest League at 6-1 and headed for the state playoffs.

But there are more games to be played and more work to be done — starting with a rematch on Tuesday with league leader Vernonia (13-1, 7-0), which handled PC 63-37 at Vernonia on Jan. 7.

Neither Hill nor the Royals figured to be in this position.

Hill, who coached boys basketball for 22 years at East Linn Christian Academy in Lebanon, became principal at Portland Christian in 2012. Before this season, various families asked if he could take over the girls hoop program as well.

"They wondered if I could build it similar to what I did at East Linn," he says. "They encouraged me to give it a shot."

Hill has found a way to perform both jobs, and the basketball program is blossoming.

"I had never considered coaching girls," he says, "but it's been a lot of fun, and they've been enjoyable to work with.

"And they're growing up fast. They were so young, I wasn't expecting to get a lot out of them this season, but we're adding more and more to their plate, and they're executing it pretty well.

"They're learning to become a great team."

by: COURTESY OF BETH MUMFORD - Serena Remington, Portland Christian power forward, battles Vernonia inside in a recent Class 2A Northwest  League game.After a 37-34 loss at Portland Adventist Academy to open the season on Dec. 4, the Royals ripped off nine consecutive wins.

Two of those victories got them into the finals of a competitive Salem Academy Tournament, where they challenged 3A Burns before falling 41-38.

Two days later came the loss at Vernonia, the preseason league favorite.

"We didn't play a complete game against Burns, and we had to try to come from behind," Hill says, "and then we had a Monday practice and then Vernonia.

"We led it after one quarter and were in it for a half, until we wore down. We were spent emotionally and physically, and Vernonia is a little older, more mature, more experienced and bigger than us.

"We were down nine points at the half, but in the second half I could see that our legs were gone — we weren't getting back on defense — so I just started using our bench."

That game showed the Royals some things they still need to work on, and they've gone 4-0 since, although the competition hasn't been anywhere near as tough.

"There's some growth still taking place," Hill says, of his team. "We've had longer and longer periods of steady offense, and fewer turnovers. That'll lead to more consistency, which we'll need to beat good teams.

"Thirty-turnover nights are not happening anymore. We're getting down to eight or 10 turnovers, which is good, even for a boys team.

"And our shooting, which was like 20 to 30 percent early in the season, is now 40 to 50 percent.

"We were up 21-4 after one quarter against Knappa, which is a good team. If we play four quarters like that, we're state champions."

by: COURTESY OF BETH MUMFORD - Guard Tori Foong looks to keep the ball moving on offense for Portland Christian.The Royals go with one junior, three sophomores and one freshman in the starting lineup.

Sophomore point guard Cezanne Brunner, 5-1, is averaging 14.0 points and 3.5 steals per game.

Shooting guard Demi Guild, a 5-7 freshman, has a team-high 14.3 points, with 4.5 rebounds per outing.

Off guard Tori Foong is a 5-5 soph.

The frontcourt has 5-6 sophomore power forward Serena Remington (8.1 rebounds, 2.9 steals) and 6-0 junior Megan Flikkema (8.9 points, 4.9 rebounds).

Brunner, Foong, Flikkema and 5-5 senior guard Alaila Eckhardt are captains.

"We have four captains because there isn't just one player everyone sees as the captain," Hill says, "and all five of my starters are strong at each thing they do — they're all MVPs."

Hill says Brunner's quickness helps the team.

"She can get off a shot in a lot of different ways, and is a good defender," he says. "She's all over the court and is fast with the ball. She directs the offense with her quickness and ability to beat pressure. She can beat a press all by herself."

Guild (26 of 75 from beyond the arc) "is the best 3-point shooter in the state," Hill says. "If you give her space, she'll make them."

Foong "is one of my best defenders, and can shoot as well," Hill says.

Remington "gets great position and is strong." She had 12 offensive rebounds and 20 total against Riverdale. "She could play guard if she had to," Hill says, "but she works inside for us, and I couldn't live without her. She's the bull in the china shop — tough, not afraid to mix it up, our best rebounder. She does all the little things people don't notice."

by: COURTESY OF BETH MUMFORD - Megan Flikkema, a junior post, adds stability around the basket for the Royals.Flikkema is "a steady player, good rebounder and good shot-blocker," Hill says. "She plays the post but can step out and hit the 10- to 12-footer. She's a lefty with a nice soft touch, gets steals, guards the other team's toughest player … she's a big reason for our success."

Off the bench, Hill regularly calls on Eckhardt and 5-8 sophomore posts Caitlyn James and Lilly Funk.

The team practices and plays at Multnomah University, because Portland Chrisitian — located at the former Parkrose Middle School — has an undersized gym and court.

Hill uses helpful staff and support, and his time management skills, to get everything done.

"I was the superintendent at East Linn — a teacher who moved up to principal and then superintendent — so I've always been a coaching administrator," he says. "But with 282 kids on our (Portland Christian) campus, it takes a lot of support staff and good employees, layers of people who can help.

"We practice at 5:30 p.m., so I have from 7 a.m. to 5:30 every day to do my principal job. And I might go all day without thinking about basketball or practice, which is different. But a principal's job has so much you're responsible for and so many things you have to be involved in — vision stuff, meetings, discipline."

The girls make the basketball part fun, he says.

"Boys are so competitive, whereas the girls also really enjoy socializing and the relationships that go with it," he says.

How long he does the dual gig remains to be seen.

"I don't know how long this takes," he says, of building the program to a high standard.

by: COURTESY OF BETH MUMFORD - Guard Demi Guild looks to penetrate on the dribble against Vernonia.What's certain is that the Royals have another big test Tuesday at home against Vernonia. It'll be a measuring stick of sorts, Hill says.

"They are 20 points better than us," he adds, "so I've just been talking to the girls about getting 10 possessions better — five on offense, five on defense — and about how to get back on defense, because Vernonia likes to run.

"We'll see how much closer we are to them this time, and then the kids can see how much better we're getting."

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