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With returning leadership in Mayra Perez, Boyds on defense, the Cougars expect to make a league title run.

When the Gervais girls basketball team made its run toward the 2A state showcase championship, it was the first championship for the program since the 1994 season. Led by a core of five seniors who had played together since their elementary school days, the Cougars authored a perfect 12-0 season.

That hype-condensed, 12-game season was the program's best under head coach Kyle Buse, who took the reins in the 2015-16 season. Buse's inaugural season ended with a 9-16 record, and year after year the results have steadily improved.

Now in the seventh year under Buse, the team returns just one starter from its championship team. Lone senior Mayra Perez will be the guiding player for the team's defense on the court. Buse says he will have Perez, his best defender, guarding the top assignment on the opposing team.

On the offensive side of the ball, junior Izzy Boyd and sophomore Olivia Boyd are expected to set the tone on offense, with junior Sofia Contreras running things at the point guard position.

The team will return six players overall, and Buse expects the Cougars to be in the top two of the Tri-River Conference for the title. He says the keys to success are simple.

"Daily hard work through preparation for our next opponents, not overlooking anyone," Buse said. "This team is focused around the chance of many players stepping into new roles so we have embraced the new season."

The toughest outs for the team this season will likely be Salem Academy and Western Christian, both of whom were voted in the top 10 of the coaches preseason polls. Other league opponents who should prove competitive include Kennedy (voted No. 10 in the preseason coaches' poll) and Colton, which returns a large number of experienced players from last year's squad.

The season opener win over East Linn Christian Academy was a blueprint of what Gervais wants to do during the season: smother the other team on defense and get takeaways that lead into offense at the other end. The Cougars dominated the visiting Eagles 57-7, including a shutout second half on Wednesday, Dec. 1.

PMG PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - Senior guard Mayra Perez scored 13 points in the Cougars 57-7 routing of East Linn Christian Academy on Wednesday, Dec. 1. The Cougars are eyeing another run to the title.

According to Perez, that defense is something instilled in them every single day.

"Our team is defense," Perez said. "We practice defense every single practice. Our key is defense. That's our number one, we're solid on that. We bust our butts on the court every single day doing defense."

She scored 13 points against East Linn Christian. Izzy Boyd led the way with 16 points, followed by Perez, and Contreras with 8. A large amount of the points scored against the Eagles came in transition off steals and causing turnovers. According to Body, Buse would prefer a different way to the basket.

"Honestly he prefers us to slow down and set it up, but we're a fast group this year, more so than last year," Izzy Boyd said. "We have a lot of fast girls, we like to move at a faster pace."

That speed is going to help them down the road, but right now the Gervais squad has a very tough stretch of road games to focus on. Nine out of the Cougars next 10 games will be on the road, including difficult matchups against 1A powerhouse Country Christian, league foe Salem Academy and 4A Valley Catholic. Gervais won't play consecutive home games until the second week of January.

"We have to get in a couple good practices and then prepare mentally for all those away games," Boyd said. "I'm glad we started out with such a strong game on our home court, but we definitely have to start prepping for those away games and stay tough. It's going to be a long season."

The girls are confident heading into that difficult stretch. Perez knows that not only are the starting five capable players, but the girls on the bench are, too.

"We have a pretty strong lineup this season. We don't have many subs, but we have subs and they have talent," Perez said. "I'm honored to be a starter again, and we have an amazing team this year."

Gervais (1-0) will face off against Willamina ay 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3.

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