Strength of schedule path to growth for Lion girls
The final three games of the girls basketball season were a challenge for the St. Helens Lions.
That was just fine with first-year head coach Brittaney Niebergall, who believes playing strong opponents is the route to growing her program.
The Lions' season ended on Tuesday with a 67-40 loss at Hermiston in the Oregon School Activities Association Class 5A play-in round.
That game followed a 68-31 loss to La Salle Prep on Feb. 22 in the final home game of the season and a 58-35 loss at Wilsonville one day later.
"It's inspiring for us to play the teams we played the last three games because those are all top teams, and eventually that is where we would like to be," Niebergall said. "For us, it's great to play those teams because we get to see what the top-caliber teams are like. And the kind of intensity, the kind of physicality, the kind of athleticism that they impose."
St. Helens finished the season 9-16. The Lions tied Putnam for fifth place in the Northwest Oregon Conference at 5-9.
Sophomore Maddie Holm's strong season is one reason to believe in a brighter future. A first-team all-conference selection, the 5-10 Holm averaged 22.3 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.1 blocked shots per conference game.
Senior guard Myranda Northrop and junior post Kaela Lee were named honorable mention all-conference. Northrop averaged 5.6 points, three assists, 2.5 steals and 2.5 rebounds per game in conference play. Lee averaged six points, two steals and 4.6 rebounds in conference games.
The Lions had only three seniors — Northrop, Trinity Degraffenreid and Irene Omboke. Seven of the dozen players in the program this season were freshmen.
Niebergall was impressed by the reaction following the playoff loss at Hermiston, noting many players already were asking how soon they can return to the gym.
"Our motto as we left Hermiston was: We're not going to go backwards. We're going to go forwards," Niebergall said.
Getting more girls playing basketball is one of the necessary steps. Niebergall said there was an effort this season to connect youth basketball programs with the high school team. But it will take more than increased participation to get the Lions back to competing for state tournament victories.
"We have to keep in mind that we want girls that are committed and dedicated and want to be there," she said.
To take the next step forward, Niebergall said the focus needs to be on the fundamentals, on "being able to handle the ball in pressure situations; hitting open shots; being able to create space to get shots off."
La Salle Prep 68, St. Helens 31
On Feb. 22, the Lions hung close into the third quarter before the visiting Falcons took control.
Holm had 11 points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots. Northrop had 11 points, three steals and two assists.
Wilsonville 58, St. Helens 35
On Feb. 23 at Wilsonville, the Lions were within 20-19 at halftime. Niebergall said fatigue and Wilsonville's defensive pressure created challenges for St. Helens in the second half.
Holm had 18 points and 16 rebounds. Lee had six points and six rebounds and Northrop had six points in the final conference game.
Hermiston 67, St. Helens 40
On Tuesday, in a playoff game to qualify for the 5A round-of-16, the visiting Lions were within eight at halftime but could not keep pace with Bulldogs 6-3 junior Jordan Thomas.
Thomas finished with 30 points as Hermiston advanced to a Friday state playoff game at Silverton.
Holm finished with 15 points. Freshman Maria Reardon scored 13, Northrop nine and junior Madi Flores three.