Sheldon or South Medford?
One of those talented girls basketball teams will win the Southwest Conference title this season. The Irish and Panthers are a cut above the other four teams in the conference.
The SWC season tips off Tuesday night with Sheldon (10-3 overall) visiting Roseburg (2-12). South Medford (11-3) travels to South Eugene (7-6) Thursday and North Medford (4-10) is at Grants Pass (7-6) Friday.
South Medford is No. 1 and Sheldon No. 9 in the Class 6A power rankings. The Panthers are No. 2 and Irish No. 5 in the OSAAtoday coaches poll.
S.M. and Sheldon each received three first-place votes and 23 points in the SWC preseason coaches poll conducted by the Medford Mail Tribune. South Eugene was predicted to finish third, Grants Pass fourth, North Medford fifth and Roseburg sixth.
Sheldon has won or shared the past two SWC championships and advanced to the state semifinals last year. The Irish ended South Medford’s 92-game conference winning streak in 2018.
Roseburg coach Dane Tornell gives a slight edge to Sheldon as the favorite based on its scoring depth.
“Sheldon and South Medford are definitely on top and there’s a big gap between second and third,” Tornell said. “Sheldon is going with an inside-outside game now and not pushing the ball as hard. South Medford pushes the pace and will press you from end to end.”
Tornell feels the Indians have made improvements from the start of the season, but it’ll be difficult to compete with Sheldon and South Medford. Roseburg averages 38.8 points and allows 52.6 points a game.
“Our positives are statistically we’re getting better all the time,” Tornell said. “Our scoring is going up, our turnovers are going down, we’re rebounding better and our free throw shooting is good. Our biggest struggle is patience and offensive consistency. Basketball maturity is an area of struggle.”
The Indians have been starting 5-foot-11 senior Katie Knudson, 5-9 senior Rylee Russell, 5-5 senior Ericka Allen, 5-2 junior Jazmyn Murphy and either 5-6 junior Kalina Anderson or 5-3 senior Emma Vredenburg. Senior Kaylee White and sophomore Chelsea Miller round out the squad.
Murphy ranks seventh in the conference in scoring (10.3).
Tornell hopes the Tribe can slow down Sheldon, which averages 53.6 points and allows 43.5 points a game.
“We’ll match up man and pick them up half court,” Tornell said. “Protect the key the best we can with help-side defense.”
The Irish, led by 10th-year coach Brian Brancato, are coming off a 54-41 loss to No. 4 5A Churchill Friday.
Sheldon has two four-year starters in 5-8 senior guard Alyssa Mirabile (10.7 points) and 5-6 senior forward Makayla Scurlock (10.6). Mirabile was the SWC Co-Player of the Year and a first-team all-state selection last year, while Scurlock made first-team all-SWC.
The Irish gained two key additions in 6-3 senior Reilly Kelty and 5-10 freshman Beaux Bruegman. Kelty, a transfer from Cottage Grove, has signed with Portland State University. Olivia Pierzina, a 5-6 junior guard, is a returning starter.
South Medford, under 13th-year coach Tom Cole, returned four starters in 5-9 senior guard Bella Pedrojetti, 5-9 junior forward Kaili Chamberlin, 5-10 junior forward Shakia Teague-Perry and 5-4 junior guard Toni Coleman.
Pedrojetti is the lone senior and received first-team all-conference honors. She signed with Eastern Washington and leads the conference in scoring (14.8).
Chamberlin and Coleman were both first-team all-SWC.
South Eugene has its third head coach in four years. Tash O’Brien, a former University of Oregon player and assistant coach, took over the program.
The Axe returned two starters in 5-10 senior forward Aubrey Lewis and 5-6 senior guard Hannah Stein. Sofia Megert, a 5-4 sophomore guard, leads the team in scoring (10.8).
Grants Pass, guided by 11th-year coach Scott Wakefield, returned only one full-time starter in 5-8 senior Camdyn Bruner. She leads the Cavers in scoring (10.5).
North Medford, which returned four starters, has a new head coach in Terrence Readus. The top returner is Jane Ersepke, a 5-8 senior guard who’s signed with Azusa Pacific. She was second-team all-SWC.