TUALATIN — For the Tualatin High School girls basketball team, the outlook going into the 2019-20 season is bright — very bright.
With a new head coach, strong returnees and promising newcomers, the Timberwolves are definitely optimistic heading into the upcoming campaign.
"We have very high expectations this year," first-year Tualatin head coach Wes Pappas said. "I couldn't be more pleased with the way these girls have responded to the new systems and a new mentality. I knew there was some real talent over here, but even after watching a lot of film and doing my homework, I didn't fully understand just how good these girls were until I got here. They have been soaking up everything we are giving them and we are primed for success this year."
The Wolves look to have a strong group of players back from last year's team that finished in fifth place in the final Three Rivers League standings at 5-9, while going 9-16 on the season, and qualifying for the Class 6A state playoffs.
Among the key returnees is junior post Natalie Lathrop (6-foot-3), who was an All-Three Rivers League honorable-mention pick last year as a sophomore.
"It all starts for us with Natalie Lathrop, who is a scoring and rebounding machine," Pappas said.
The Wolves also bring back junior guard Kasidy Javernick (5-9).
"Kasidy Javernick is a returning point guard that has shown great improvement over the summer," Pappas said. "She is a great passer and she will lead our offense well."
Tualatin has another third-year returnee in junior post Sidney Dering (5-10).
"Sidney Dering is another post who's not afraid to mix it up and is poised to do some damage this year, both scoring and rebounding-wise," Pappas said.
Lathrop, Javernick and Dering all started for Tualatin last year as sophomores.
Junior guard Aurora Davis (5-10) also returns from last year's varsity squad.
"This kid has a tremendous work ethic and can do it all," Pappas said of Davis. "She can shoot it, attack the rim, defend and rebound, and she is extremely valuable to us."
The Wolves are also looking for big things from junior returning guard Teagan Gaviola (5-5).
"Another crazy work ethic kid is Teagan Gaviola," Pappas said. "Teagan leaves it all out on the floor every practice and is a highly skilled guard."
Sophomore guard Brook Burke (5-8) also is back for the Wolves.
"Brook Burke brings a mentality of toughness that we need," Pappas said. "She can really get after it defensively, and may end up being our best defender this year."
Sophomore Lusi Tapasa (5-11) returns at a post spot for the Wolves.
"Lusi just gets better every day," Pappas said. "Her rebounding and defense improved dramatically over the summer and she's developed a deadly mid-range jumper."
Tualatin has yet another returnee in sophomore guard Braquelle Blanchard (5-5).
"Braq is tough as nails and is max-effort in everything she does," Pappas said.
Senior guard Sophie Wong (5-6) also returns, and she should provide a threat from the perimeter.
"Sophie Wong is a lights-out shooter that has been really impressive thus far," Pappas said.
New to the Tualatin varsity is senior guard Sophie Bennett (5-3).
"Sophie Bennett has been such a pleasant surprise, in that she didn't play last season," Pappas said. "She is a crafty point guard that can really make things happen, either dishing or creating her own shot."
Freshman guard Tabi Searle (5-10) could be another key newcomer for the Wolves.
"This kid has tremendous potential," Pappas said. "She's a long guard that can score inside and out. The sky's the limit for her and she could earn big minutes as a freshman."
Tualatin looked to have another key freshman in Olivia Poulivaati (5-11), but she'll miss the season due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
"When she gets back as a sophomore, she is going to be special," Pappas said. "Her athletic ability is through the roof."
As for what the strength will be for the Wolves this year, Pappas, who has served as an assistant coach at Tigard High School, and the head coach at Sherwood, before taking the post at Tualatin, isn't sure what that will be.
"We have so many strengths it's honestly hard to pin it down," he said. "I think our greatest strength is the overall basketball ability of our girls. I honestly haven't had a team with this much basketball ability from top to bottom for a number of years, all the way back to my time at Tigard. I feel like a kid in a candy store with this much talent to work with and that's a testament to the amount of work these girls put in during the off season. Other strengths are we can put some really long line-ups out there that make our zone even better, and we have Lathrop anchoring it."
As for the Three Rivers League this year, Tualatin knows it will be in for a battle every night.
"The Three Rivers League will be extremely strong this year," Pappas said. "I see West Linn, Tigard and Oregon City as the favorites, although there is talent all over this league. Just about ever team in this league returns more all-league kids from last year than we do, but I truly believe in our girls and think we have the potential to hang with any of them."
The Wolves will open their season on Friday, when they host David Douglas in a non-league game set to start at 7 p.m. at Tualatin High School. On Tuesday, Tualatin will travel to North Medford for a non-league contest starting at 6 p.m.
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