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Wildcats return three starters from last year's squad that finsihed third in Class 5A

COURTESY PHOTO: GREG ARTMAN - Junior Emelia Bishop was a First Team all-league and Second Team all-state selection last season.

Wilsonville's girls basketball team has improved each year under head coach Justin Duke.

After placing third in Class 5A last season, the Wildcats do not have much farther to climb.

"We want to finish about an hour and a half later this year than we did last year," Duke said, referring to the state championship game. "Instead of that third-place game, I'd like to be in that game that starts a little bit later."

Wilsonville graduated five talented seniors, three of whom are playing in college, but return Emilia Bishop and Sydney Burns, two juniors who were both voted First Team all-league out of the Northwest Oregon Conference, as well as Second Team all-state last year as sophomores.

In the Wildcats third-place victory over Crater, Burns had 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists, while Bishop added 14 points and eight rebounds.

"They really fell into their own at the end of last year, especially in their third-place game," Duke said. "As talented as our seniors were, 80% of the scoring in that third-place game came from girls who are coming back."

Senior Renee Lee had 16 points.

"That was really Renee's breakout game," Duke said. "It was a good way to end the year and go into her senior year."

Senior Kayla Hieb, a three-year starter, also is back.

"She does a little bit of everything," Duke said. "She's not one who typically scores 15 points a night, but is consistent and can guard one of the other teams' best players. She's that solid presence out there. She'll provide a lot of senior leadership for us. Her stats aren't going to jump off the page. Her value isn't going to be seen on a sheet of paper. But (she is) just as important to us as probably any other kid."

Sophomore Grace Gatto and junior Keira McNamee will be tasked with filling in roles left by the graduating seniors.

COURTESY PHOTO: GREG ARTMAN - Senior Kayla Hieb, a three-year starter, returns to Wilsonville's girls basketball team.

"We've got 13 really strong varsity kids," Duke said. "We've got a few kids (Bishop and Burns) who probably rise to the top talent-wise who got all-league and all-state honors, but I'm really comfortable with the other 11 putting them out there and piecing this together."

While the Wildcats will continue to play an uptempo style after leading Class 5A in scoring the past two seasons, Duke wants to see improvement on the defensive end.

"Defensive side, if we can make some strides there and improve, the sky's the limit," Duke said. "It's been how well we can outscore teams, and we want to move away from just relying on outscoring teams to being able to get stops. We need to be able to play a little bit of a different style this year."

After the Wildcats split with state powerhouse La Salle Prep last season to share the NWOC championship, the Falcons defeated Wilsonville in the semifinals of the state tournament and then won their third state title in five years.

The Wildcats had not reached the elite eight since 2012.

"There's a new level of confidence with the girls in the program," Duke said. "We've been to the final eight. We played in the semifinal game, and now it's probably even more important to them to get back there. They've had a sense of what that feels like and what that environment is like. They want to get back to it."

Derek Wiley
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