Forest Grove boys and girls ready for 2019-20
Last season was a bit of a disappointment for the Forest Grove girls basketball team. After winning a league title the year prior, last year's Vikings finished 13-12 overall and placed sixth in the first year of the new Pacific Conference. But this year's squad returns four starters, a wealth of experience and with increased depth hopes to do things faster — and hopefully much better in 2019-20.
"We're deeper than we were last year, so I feel we can play more girls that will allow us to play at a faster tempo and pressure more throughout the game," Vikings head coach Dan Lumpkin said.
Under Lumpkin the Vikings have always stressed defense and looked to create offense through penetration and kick opportunities. But this season, thanks to the aforementioned depth and an increased level of athleticism, the coach wants to speed things up a bit and create points not just by traditional means, but also on the backs of pressure in both the half and full court.
"We would like to play an up-tempo style, pushing in transition, looking to get shots in the key or kick outs to the three-point line," the coach said. "Also, we would like to apply more full- and half-court pressure more consistently this year."
The team returns six full-time varsity players, not to mention senior post Olivia Grosse, senior guard Kayleen Dominguez, senior point guard Ashlynn Dawson and junior guard Amanda Rebsom, all starters. Dawson and Rebsom were honorable mention all-league selections last season.
Lumpkin cited Rebsom's athleticism and versatility; Grosse's height, defense and rebounding; and Dominguez' shooting; along with Dawson's experience and aptitude — both during play and at the free throw line — in the clutch as assets of this year's team. In addition, he pointed to sophomore guards Ally Hammond and Lily Everson as newcomers to watch.
"Both [are] sophomores, but will play a lot of minutes," the coach said. "Both are long, athletic guards who handle the ball well and play great defense."
The team also returns seniors Katie Ellington, Kendal Thrush, Olivia Cleary and Ellie Kintz from last year's team, which speaks to the depth that will be key to this season's faster pace.
Lumpkin sees that pace, coupled with defense as the team's strength, while size — per usual — will be a weakness the team will have to overcome.
Last year, six of the seven Pacific Conference teams qualified for the state playoffs, and Lumpkin believes that this season will again offer stiff league competition, with Liberty and McMinnville as the likely favorites. But he also said you shouldn't count anyone out.
"I think that several teams can compete and beat both of them," Lumpkin said. "I don't see anyone as unbeatable, and I don't see anyone as being weak."
And what does he expect from his girls?
"I expect us to continue to improve throughout the season," he said. "I expect that we will compete and play hard each and every week, and I think we are a team that will compete for a top spot in league and make it to the playoffs."
The Forest Grove girls opened with a 40-35 win over Canby Friday, Dec. 6.
Meanwhile, the Viking boys, too, have reason for optimism, with much of their hope centering around the return of first team all-conference guard Guy Littlefield, who finished last season averaging 16.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game, while shooting 46 percent from the field. But despite Littlefield's return, Forest Grove will need more than just the all-leaguer's contributions if the team wants to return to this year's state playoffs.
The Viks are without three all-league players from last year's squad that lost to West Linn in the playoffs' opening round — Adison Emerick, Ayden Purcell and Henry Tonges — but return junior wing Braden Hudgins, along with junior post James Irvine. Head coach Greg Evers said that any of the three returning players — Littlefield, Hudgens, and Irvine — can get 20 points on a given night, and that he will regularly expect a combined 40 from the trio. But it's what they get elsewhere that will be a bit of a mystery, along with the key to any success they have this year.
"Our offense is a work in progress," Evers said. "If we can get a couple other kids to really step up, we can battle the Sherwoods and Centurys for a league title. "
Despite some new faces, the Vikings plan to do things per usual. However, without the size they've had in recent years, they'll be forced to rely more heavily on a balanced defensive presence and a disciplined attack offensively.
"We expect to play very good half-court defense, be disciplined on offense and try to get quality shots at the offensive end," Evers said. "We're not as big at the post position, but we like those players, so I can see us going to our post players more than we did last year.
"James Irvine will be a difficult matchup down low, even though he only stands 6-foot-1, and we'll start Braden Hudgins at the 4-spot ... he will be a deadly shooter from there."
Beyond that, Evers said he'll be counting on some less experienced players to step up — players like senior wing Zach Burke, who the coach said is a very good shooting wing; senior Roman Miller, who's "a glue guy who'll provide a little bit of everything," including a tough defensive mindset; and junior wing Ayden Case, who'll "see a lot of action off the bench." Also, the coach eventually sees sophomores Kaden Clute, Lucas Ellington and Jake Steltenpohl being solid players, but understands that it will take some time for them to get used to the speed of the game at the varsity level.
Evers cited Sherwood, Century and Newberg as teams to keep an eye on at or near the top of the league, but noted that on a given night, Liberty, Glencoe and McMinnville can all give you fits. Having said that, he expects his team to be in the mix.
"I don't think we are quite where we were last year, but it's early and I like our potential."
Forest Grove's boys dropped their opener to Roosevelt 90-85, but rebounded with a 74-62 win over Wilson Dec. 6.
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