KELSO — Prairie coach Hala Corral has heard the rumblings about her 2019-20 girls basketball team.
The defending 3A state champions have been questioned by many leading up to this season as the team copes with four of its starters departing from last year’s squad.
Corral, coach of the 22-time defending league champions, had one message to those convinced an historic league win streak would end this season:
“Not tonight,” Corral said after a convincing 44-29 road victory over Kelso on Thursday.
Point taken, Coach.
The Falcons (5-6, 2-0) extended that league win streak to 210 games behind 10 points from Meri Dunford and a strong defensive effort. Prairie’s last league loss was Jan. 31, 2000.
“People have been saying Prairie is not the same team as we were last year,” Dunford said. “They’re right. We’re not. But we’re still good; we still got it.”
After a slow start, the Falcons went on a 10-0 run in the second quarter to grab a lead they never let slip. In the period, Prairie held Kelso (6-5, 0-2) scoreless for seven minutes.
It was much of the same the second half, as the Falcons’ zone defense kept sophomore standout Natalie Fraley out of the paint and limited sharpshooting senior Alexis Kleven’s 3-point shots. Kleven tallied 13 points, but just two 3s.
“The defense kept us in the game,” Corral said.
Offensively, it took time for Prairie to get going, but once the shots started falling — the Falcons hit a trio of 3-pointers in the second half — the smiles reappeared across the Falcon faces. Dayna Vera’s 3-pointer in the fourth quarter pushed the lead to 10 with less than four minutes to play, the outcome making itself clear.
Now at 2-0 in 3A Greater St. Helens League play, the Falcons have found an identity that starts on the defensive end.
“We have spent all season putting this in and perfecting it,” senior guard Alli Corral said of the defense. “In the past few years, we have had defenses that fit our style of play. This one we don’t have the tallest players, but we have quick, fast players willing to buy in.”
Undoubtedly, Prairie looks different than years past. This isn’t a team laced with future NCAA Division I talent. Rather, this team will be defined by its toughness, heart and character. That was on full display in Kelso on Thursday.
“They’re going to out-work most teams,” coach Corral said. “I’m so proud to coach these girls.”
Alli Corral added eight points for the Falcons, who had five different players make field goals in a rounded scoring effort.
Prairie hosts Fort Vancouver and Mountain View next week as the Falcons hope notches keep ticking on the league unbeaten run.
“It shows just how much they want to win,” Coach Corral said. “They see the record, they hear all the naysayers saying this isn’t Prairie’s year. Somebody has to take it from us first.”
PRAIRIE 44, KELSO 29
PRAIRIE — Dayna Vera 9, Meri Dunford 10, Alli Corral 8, Kaitlyn Caught 5, Claire Heitschmidt 6, Hannah Close 0, Kylie Diaz 6. Totals 13 (5) 12-21 44.
KELSO — Alexis Kleven 13, Cooper Joy 4, Evermore Kaiser 1, Matisyn Ohlson 0, Natalie Fraley 7, Madison Harkins 0, KK Perez 4. Totals 11 (3) 4-12 29.
Prairie 6 10 12 16—44
Kelso 8 3 10 8—29
JV — Prairie 42, Kelso 23