Rangers hope experience leads to district berth

Dufur Ranger girls basketball coach Hollie Darden brings back a core of talented underclassmen, five juniors and a senior that went 12-11 and placed fifth in league, one game out of third place. The Lady Rangers improved on offense and defense, so with the added speed and athleticsm on the roster, the initial thought process is playing a quicker style to maximize the players’ potential.

DUFUR – Jumping into the varsity mix as freshmen, Dufur’s Jessica Brown, Zoe Hester and Kierstin White made their presence known on the hardwood.

A year older and wiser, they figure to fill more prominent roles alongside juniors Mikayla Kelly, Mona Meanus, Trinity Blake, Katie Beal, Maddy Smith and senior guard Kayla Bailey.

“I am excited because it is good whenever you have underclassmen play varsity minutes,” Bailey said. “They already know what has to be done and they are not running around all frantic on the court. They grew so much as players and that experience will help them even more this year.”

With the promising efforts put forth by last season’s freshmen, head coach Hollie Darden has Emily Crawford, Hannah Kortge, Piper Neal and Brooke Beachamp, as a quartet of solid ninth graders.

Many of those players were on the court during summer action, so there is some continuity in place.

“It is really exciting,” Bailey added. “We’ve never had this many girls out for basketball. We have never had a JV team in the past, so it nice to have a bunch of freshmen come out. I know when I graduate, we have girls here that will make the program even more successful.”

Last season, Dufur nearly doubled its win total and shot up from four league wins to eight for a fifth-place finish, one game behind Horizon Christian and Ione.

Dufur scored 43.4 points a game, a 2.5-point improvement, and the defense surrendered 39.9 points a clip, which was 6.2 points better.

Much of that scoring punch is gone with the graduation of all-league players Chloe Beeson and Alexus Outlaw, who combined for 17.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 7.3 steals a game.

While it is tough losing high-caliber threats, Darden is instituting a quicker style to maximize the players’ skill set.

“When you have girls that are athletic and can move, we are planning to play a little more up-tempo and try to apply some pressure defenses,” Darden said. “Those are areas that we will work on a lot once we get everybody in the mix. We are going to try to implement some new traps and things in the full-court set. And then we want to get out in transition a little bit more. We will play a lot of man defense as we typically do and then we will sprinkle in some zone looks.”

The Big Sky Conference underwent some changes from last season, with Echo added and Horizon out due to low numbers.

South Wasco County, Sherman, Ione, Condon-Wheeler, Arlington and Mitchell-Spray are all back.

“I really think we can compete with any team in the state,” Meanus said. “Our league is still really tough. Some have new players, good returners and they lost girls just like us. We just need to play our game and execute on offense and defense and we will have a lot of wins.”

Earlier this summer, Darden caught a good glimpse of this team and it gives him reasons for optimism.

“We have an infusion of talent coming up and we have freshmen that played quite a bit of summer ball, so it was good to have as many girls on the court as possible,” Darden said. “It is actually an athletic group overall, so I think we will have a lot of different possible lineups we can throw at other teams.”

Following Friday’s road game versus Damascus, Dufur heads to Culver at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, the Rangers take a trip to White Salmon, Wash.

“It is going to a fun year,” Meanus said. “I think we are going to surprise a lot of people and hopefully get to districts or state.”

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