North Marion ready to take Tri-Valley Conference
It's been four years since the North Marion girls' basketball team last played a game in the Tri-Valley Conference, and even longer since the Huskies were a league champion. But despite losing the top two offensive weapons from last year's third-place team — the program's best finish in more than 30 years — North Marion head coach Trevor Bodine believes his team still has plenty of confidence about remaining one of the elite teams in the 4A Classification.
"I still feel like we're a top-five team," Bodine said. "On paper I lost a lot, but in theory I can replace it pretty quickly with the girls I have now."
Senior Mar Verastegui and sophomore Mya Hammack may not have the same shooting stroke as last year's leading scorers Ally Umbenhower and Hannah Kinniburgh, but they more than make up for it with their ability to get the basket seemingly at will.
The two guards are able to punish opposing teams with their relentless athleticism, slashing to the net and forcing opposing teams to either crash the paint or leave either open for high-percentage shots close to the basket.
Should they look to pass, they'll have plenty of options in the waiting. Seniors Raymee Boese and Paige Martin step into the starting frontcourt positions, and junior Katie Ensign returns as a lanky defensive pest on the wing who can step out and knock down shots. All three are coming off a successful season with the volleyball program, and Bodine is excited to recalibrate the offense to fit his players' abilities.
"We're playing at a faster pace this year. I've thrown in a new offense, because of the personnel I have now," Bodine said. "I've got some more height, so we're going to look a little different, so we're definitely going to push the ball more."
Whereas last year's team was much more reliant on its 3-point shooting to break games open, this year's Huskies will look to do their damage inside. Verastegui and Hammack are much more comfortable slashing to the basket than playing from the perimeter, while Boese and Martin give North Marion a pair of athletic 6-foot post players.
They lack the shooting ability of Kinniburgh and Lindy Wing — both all-conference honorees last season — but are bigger and quicker, giving Bodine a strong inside duo that he's eager to unleash on opponents.
"This year we're going to have more of a low-post presence and try to pound it inside as much as we can," he said. "It's going to be more of an inside-outside game. It's a little bit of a steeper learning curve, but they caught on pretty quick. And I'll still run some stuff I ran last year."
Not that the Huskies will completely abandon the 3-pointer. Ensign has improved her shot from outside, and senior reserve Makenzie Ulven will give the team an aggressive leader off the bench to guide the second unit. Bodine will also look to his rotation of freshmen players like Megan Netter, Mallory Patzer and Olivia Dossey to swing up from the JV team and hit the occasional outside shot.
Along with senior wing Kaitlyn Cobb and sophomores Carter Crawford and Danielle Christenson, the Huskies will look to maintain their high level of play since Bodine took over the program two years ago, leading the team to back-to-back top-six finishes in the state tournament.
What won't change is the team's focus on defense that has been the program's backbone over those two seasons. The Huskies still look to run their offense as a product of their defense, pressuring opposing teams and creating turnovers that lead to quick transition buckets on the other end.
"I don't have a clue how well we're going to score, but I think we'll be alright," Bodine said. "It's not like we scored a lot last year."
The Huskies will return to the Tri-Valley Conference after playing there for a four-year stint from 2010 to 2014. Previously, North Marion played in the Capitol Conference, where the team won its last league title in 2008.
North Marion played against most of their Tri-Valley rivals during the summer season, and Bodine noted that most of the teams are in the same position as the Huskies — seeking to find a replacement for their top players. But with North Marion's returners well-equipped to fill the void of the departed seniors, the Huskies are confident they have all the tools necessary to finish the season on top.
"Everybody lost some pretty significant scoring," Bodine said. "I feel like I've been able to replace mine pretty well. I just have to find that one who can knock down big shots at critical times."
The North Marion Huskies were scheduled to open the season Monday against the 5A Corvallis Spartans. The Huskies tip off their home opener Wednesday against the Stayton Eagles at 7 p.m.