Lions out to win third Seven-Mile War opener in a row, reach first play-in since 2012

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: JAKE MCNEAL - Madi Flores, center, attacks the basket against McKayla Foster, right, in practice Tuesday, Nov. 21, at St. Helens High School.SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: JAKE MCNEAL - Madison Blazek, left, and Tayvin Degraffenreid, right, square off beneath the basket.SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: JAKE MCNEAL - Assistant coach Tom Niebergall, left, stresses the importance of assertion on jump balls and tip-offs.

The Lions will show Scappoose what they're made of as they hit the road for their Seven-Mile War opener.

St. Helens can beat the soon-to-be Class 5A Northwest Oregon Conference rival Indians for the third time in a row at 7 p.m. Thursday after splitting the last six head-to-head with a Tribe-friendly 39-37 average score.

Now is a great time to improve the trend.

"Scappoose is going to be an exciting game," said guard Trinity Degraffenreid, a senior guard with Myranda Northrop and fourth-year post Irene Omboke. "We are finally going to be able to showcase all of the hard work we have put in and really see how we will play together for the rest of the season."

St. Helens, in search of its first state title, averages a 4-19 overall record in the last 13 years and last reached Class 5A play-ins in 2011 and 2012, so homecourt advantage is invaluable.

"I am really looking forward to seeing if our girls can stay focused for 32 minutes," first-year Lions coach Brittaney Niebergall said. "We know we have a real challenge ahead of us on Thursday at Scappoose to begin our season, but win or lose it will give us a chance to evaluate where we are as a group and as a basketball team so we can continue to move forward. I am really proud of how hard the girls have been working the past couple of weeks in practice, and I look forward seeing how that translates in a game situation."

Niebergall and her assistant coaches -- her father, Tom Niebergall, and her brother, Tommy Niebergall -- impel their Lions to take the court with authority and to protect their jungle from tip-off to the horn.

"What I like about this year's girls' basketball team is the energy and amazing work ethic that I've seen in every single girl these past few weeks," Omboke said. "This upcoming game against Scappoose has me excited to get back out on the court and play the sport I love."

Emelia Paullus (a guard), Madi Flores, McKayla Flores and Kaela Lee (posts) are juniors, and McKenna Coddington (a guard) and Maddie Holm (a post) are sophomores.

"This year's group of basketball girls is very exciting," Northrop said. "We have new players and old players coming out for the upcoming season: Everyone is excited and eager to start getting into games. We're all excited for what the season will hold for us and our success. What's exciting about the opening game against Scappoose is that we get to show everyone how far we've come along from last season."

Maria Reardon, Tayvin Degraffenreid and Hope Olson (guards) and Madison Blazek, Hillary Barley and Annalyssa Ridgeway (posts) are St. Helens' newest.

"The girls that came out this year all love the game and are very excited to be playing," Degraffenreid said. "Every day people show up to practice eager to learn so we can go out and compete on the floor. Everybody [gives] 100 percent effort 100 percent of the time."

La Salle Prep, a Class 5A champion in two of the last three years and a three-time defending conference medalist featuring all-state senior guard Taycee Wedin and all-Northwest Oregon talents Colby Jansen and Isabella Crowley (senior forwards), Reese Timm (a junior guard), Kylie Burg (a sophomore forward), are the team to beat.

The Northwest Oregon schedule is ever perilous as Hillsboro, Coach of the Year Sara Harsin and senior all-conference talents Katherine Salas (a guard) and Isabel Mosley (a post) chase La Salle Prep for the title.

"Everyone always says that 'St. Helens is going to be an easy win,'" Northrop said. "Well, this season is going to be much different, and we're ready to show everyone that."

SEASON OUTLOOK: The Lions, with new leadership and upperclassmen, are antsy to win their first conference game since they beat Parkrose 77-30 Feb. 5, 2016, in Portland, and to play for their first postseason qualification in six years.


COACH: Brittaney Niebergall (First year)

CLASSIFICATION: Class 5A, Northwest Oregon Conference

2016-17 FINISH: 3-20 overall, 0-14 Northwest Oregon


Myranda Northrop, sr., G, 5' 5"; Trinity Degraffenreid, sr., G, 5' 5"; Irene Omboke, sr., P, 5' 8"; Emelia Paullus, jr., G, 5' 4"; McKayla Flores, jr., P 5' 11"; Madi Flores, jr., P/G, 5' 5"; Kaela Lee, jr., P/G, 5' 9"; Maddie Holm, so., P/G, 5' 10"; McKenna Coddington, so., G, 5' 6"; Maria Reardon, fr., G, 5' 2"; Madison Blazek, fr., P/G, 5' 10"; Tayvin Degraffenreid, fr., G, 5' 4"; Hope Olson, fr., G, 5' 4"; Hillary Barley, fr., P, 5' 7"; Annalyssa Ridgeway, fr., P, 5' 7"


Nov. 30 St. Helens at Scappoose, 7 p.m.

Dec. 5 St. Helens at Dallas, 7 p.m.

Dec. 8 Bend at St. Helens, 7:15 p.m.

Dec. 9 Mountain View at St. Helens, 12:45 p.m.

Dec. 12 St. Helens at Woodburn, 7 p.m.

Dec. 15 The Dalles at St. Helens, 7:15 p.m.

Dec. 19 Gresham at St. Helens, 7:15 p.m.

Dec. 20 St. Helens at Roosevelt, 7:15 p.m., in Portland

Dec. 28 Seaside at St. Helens, 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 3 Hood River Valley at St. Helens, 7 p.m.

Jan. 5 St. Helens at Hillsboro, 5:45 p.m. *

Jan. 9 Putnam at St. Helens, 7:15 p.m. *

Jan. 12 St. Helens at Parkrose, 7:15 p.m., in Portland *

Jan. 16 St. Helens at Milwaukie, 7:15 p.m. *

Jan. 19 St. Helens at Sandy, 5:45 p.m. *

Jan. 23 St. Helens at La Salle Prep, 7:15 p.m., in Milwaukie *

Jan. 26 Wilsonville at St. Helens, 7:15 p.m. *

Jan. 31 Hillsboro at St. Helens, 5:45 p.m. *

Feb. 2 St. Helens at Putnam, 7:15 p.m., in Milwaukie *

Feb. 6 Parkrose at St. Helens, 7:15 p.m. *

Feb. 13 Milwaukie at St. Helens, 7:15 p.m. *

Feb. 16 Sandy at St. Helens, 5:45 p.m. *

Feb. 20 La Salle Prep at St. Helens, 7:15 p.m. *

Feb. 23 St. Helens at Wilsonville, 7:15 p.m. *

* Northwest Oregon Conference game

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