Girls basketball preview: Signs point to Union as favorite

Influx of new talent has Titans among favorites to go far this season

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

Published:

 

Girls basketball preview

Quick look at key players from area girls basketball teams:

CLASS 4A GSHL

BATTLE GROUND: Key players — Mallory Olson; Haley Hamilton; Alena Jarvis. The Tigers are rebuilding after a strong 2011-12 campaign and are off to a 2-2 start in the non-league schedule.

CAMAS: Key players — Lauren Neff, sr.; Brenna Khaw, so.; Sierra Brown, sr. The Papermakers are looking to compete for a top-three finish in the 4A GSHL. Neff is the lone returning starter.

EVERGREEN: Key players — Deja Nicholas, sr.; Nakesha Hatchett, sr.; Vella Jackson, jr. Evergreen, like Union, has a lot of new talent at the school. Coach Jay Foreman said he expect a “bounce-back” year for the Plainsmen.

HERITAGE: Key players — DeAnna Riggs, sr.; Serena Carroll, sr.; Shayla Bell, jr. The Timberwolves are young and it is showing in the non-league season. Players looking to improve as the season progresses.

SKYVIEW: Key players — Stephanie McDonagh, jr.; Aubrey Ward-El, jr.; Hannahjoy Adams. Jocelyn Adams is recovering from knee surgery and is not sure when she will return. The defending state champions are going through a rebuilding phase, too. Still, you can never count out a team coached by Jennifer Buscher.

UNION: Key players — Jessica Chatman, jr.; Emily Rowe, sr.; Kendra Preuninger, sr. Chatman is one of the best players in the region. Now she has a lot of help with several new players in the mix. Union looks tough on paper. The key will be chemistry.

CLASS 3A GSHL

COLUMBIA RIVER: Key players — Morgan Anthony, jr.; Kim Lowery, sr., Holli Chose, so. The Chieftains already have two wins this season under new coach Carl Click. That’s two more than last year.

FORT VANCOUVER: Key players — Mar’Shay Moore, sr.; Anna DeLeo, sr.; Aneta Mamedova, jr. The numbers are up at Fort Vancouver, which means more depth for coach Mike Dillman. This team could compete for a postseason berth.

HUDSON’S BAY: Key players — Bailey Freeman; Lynnese Harrell; Paris Collins. The Eagles are off to a slow start but they did take a team to overtime this week. Signs of improvement.

MOUNTAIN VIEW: Key players — Carly Holboke, sr.; Emma DuChesne, sr.; Bailey Lindsley. The Thunder likely will be in a fight for second place. All coaches agree Prairie is the top team in the league. But with Holboke leading the way, the Thunder have to be thinking about a high finish.

PRAIRIE: Key players — Cori Woodward, sr.; Megan Lindsley, sr.; Nicole Goecke, jr. Well, they are the defending champions, with plenty of talent back, and ranked No. 1 in the state for the 3A teams. Yeah, they’re kind of a big deal. Added twist: After decades of Al Aldridge as coach, Mike Smith takes over the program

CLASS 2A GSHL

HOCKINSON: Key players — Katelyn McGuire; Brianna Curtis; Brooke Sparks. The Hawks opened the non-league season 3-2, all against bigger schools.

MARK MORRIS: Key players — Raimee Sluder, sr.; Majerle Reeves, sr.; Breanna Dubois, jr. A young team, but at least one opposing coach says Mark Morris is in a league of its own. Yeah, that good.

RIDGEFIELD: Key players — Carly Estes, sr.; Shannon Boyle, jr.; Jessica Shaffer, sr. The Spudders got some bad news with injuries but still have the talent to fight for a playoff berth.

WASHOUGAL: Key players — Megan Townsend, sr; Megan Sharp, jr.; Alyssa Blankenship, sr. Inexperienced, but a hard-working group, according to coach Charlie Boyce.

1A TRICO LEAGUE

LA CENTER: Key players — Katie Whitten; Samantha Wise; Rachel Moudy. The talented Wildcats opened the campaign with five consecutive victories.

SETON CATHOLIC: Key players — Paulina Barboza; Edrienne Chan; Lauren Rokoz. The Cougars are taking their lumps in their first year in the bigger 1A league.

WOODLAND: Key players — Sidra Malik, so.; Madison Sorensen, jr.; Mckenna Muler, so. The Beavers are new to the 1A ranks, and they are practically a brand new team. No seniors on the squad.

KING’S WAY CHRISTIAN: Key player — Harper Christian, so.; Jessica Roy, sr.; Callie Crawford, sr. The athletic program has done well in its first year in Class 1A but basketball brings a new kind of challenge.

It is a good problem to have, a team with so much talent.

But it can be a problem.

The Union girls basketball team is hoping to figure out this chemistry equation, trying to find a way to gel, especially by the time league starts in January.

The Class 4A Greater St. Helens League is no longer seen as Skyview's league. The Storm won the state title a year ago, but six of that squad's top eight players are no longer there.

That leads some coaches to believe another team can rise to the top. And a lot of those coaches are pointing at Union.

The Titans are led by Jessica Chatman, a junior who has already decided to play at Brigham Young University. Her talent alone would make any team competitive.

The Titans, though, got a lot more talented in a year.

Three quality players from other programs are now on the team:

Senior Kendra Preuninger is in her fourth year of varsity after playing for Camas the past three seasons.

Senior Emily Rowe played in state tournaments in Washington and Oregon. First, as a freshman at Prairie, and then at St. Mary's Academy in Portland.

Junior Tessa Vanderpool helped Battle Ground to a run into the bi-district tournament last season.

All three of the new players have different reasons for coming to Union. Preuninger called it a family issue. Vanderpool wanted a new beginning. Rowe said the commute to Portland was getting to her.

They all ended up at Union, a girls basketball program that has never reached the state tournament.

Chatman was the new talent last year, when she moved to Union from Evergreen for her sophomore year.

"I wanted to make them feel welcome," Chatman said. "I knew how it was to feel welcome at this program. We wanted to make sure they knew we really did want them and we're here to play basketball."

Union coach Roger Shepard has 10 players on his varsity squad. Three are new to varsity this season, and three are new to the program. That leaves three, not including Chatman, who are dealing with new roles, different roles than they expected.

"Lost in all of this are those girls," Shepard said, noting how Tuileisu Anderson, Molly Petrie, and Hannah O'Donnell helped the team win a program-best 14 games last season.

"They deserve credit, too. They are having to deal with having kids who showed up and took some minutes. Is it fair? It is what it is. But they are handling this in a remarkable, exemplary, manner."

Chatman said the Titans are working on team bonding, with dinners and other fun events.

"We also like to take really weird pictures of each other," she said with a laugh before threatening anyone -- say a coach -- who might leak those photos to the press.

In a way, this is a reunion of sorts for Rowe, Chatman, and Preuninger. The three played on a club team that won a tournament in Las Vegas when they were seventh-graders.

Vanderpool said she knew Chatman but no one else.

"I liked the idea of a new start," she said. "And it's a really good school."

Now they are all together, trying make all this talent work.

"We're getting there," Preuninger said. "Every day, it's getting better."

"I didn't know what to expect," Vanderpool acknowledged.

Now she is thrilled with her decision.

"They're all such a great group of girls," she said. "We're all just learning every day."

Rowe could not contain her excitement.

"I just love this team. I really think all of the girls are genuinely nice people. I have nothing bad to say about it. Just a great place to be at," she said.

A great place, but all of the players and the coach say they are far from being a great team.

"Our long-term goal is to make it to state and play in the dome," Vanderpool said. "But we kind of have to take it step by step."

"Make sure we don't get ahead of ourselves," Chatman said.

Shepard appreciates that his players are not taking anything for granted. He understands that with so much talent, there will be high expectations. Still, he warns those who call his team a favorite.

"We haven't done anything," he said. "I love the kids, but they're going to have to go out and earn their stripes and earn their accolades."

The Titans have the talent. This month, they are hoping to find ways to get the most out of that talent.

"It just comes down to being a team," Preuninger said.