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PREP FOCUS: Jesuit girls basketball transforming on the fly

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP - Jesuit guard Keara Vu has taken over as one the Crusaders' best defensive players in the preseason.

There has been plenty of remodeling — albeit constructive refining — around the Jesuit High girls' basketball program.

Coach Jason Lowery has changed the Crusaders' course and turned Jesuit (3-1 going into Friday night's home game with Sherwood) into a faster, more uptempo team that can get up and down the hardwood with swiftness. As opposed to last season, when Jesuit was more of a halfcourt team that was post-dominated, Jesuit's aim is to get out on the break and put more points on the scoreboard.

Lowery has deployed more of a four-guard lineup with quicker playmakers Kate Anderson, Keara Vu, Alexis Mendelsohn and AnneMarie Minniti, among others, orbiting around agile 6-1 sophomore post Alzena Henry and 6-0 senior pivot Lauren Glick.

“It's more advantageous for our personnel,” Lowery says. “It's a lot more fun way to play. We're emphasizing transition a lot more like we used to. It gives our guards a little more room to operate and do stuff that they weren't really allowed to do last year.”

“We can pass more and drive more,” senior Emily Allen says. “We can do more dribble-drives this year, which will be a really good offense for us. I like what I've seen so far in our improvement. I think we have a lot of promise. I'm excited to get going this season.”

Playing four guards, who can all handle the ball, has allowed the Crusaders to alleviate constricting ball pressure from opponents and dictate the flow of the game. Instead of reacting, Lowery says, Jesuit has been more of the aggressor.

“We're a young group, so our philosophy is play hard, play together, and then we'll figure the rest out,” Lowery says. “I think we can compete in the Metro League with anyone. If we keep working hard, there's no telling what we can do. But, there are still some question marks we'll have to answer in the next couple of weeks.”

Glick says Jesuit's team strength is its overall quickness, which shows up when the Crusaders hound teams in the fullcourt press.

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP - Sophomore guard Kate Anderson is one of the Crusaders' primary playmakers.

“We really emphasize defense,” Glick says. “We want to get a lot of steals. It's something we thrive off of and try to use to our advantage.”

Anderson is a returning all-Metro League sophomore guard and one of Jesuit's top offensive threats on the perimeter. Henry demands attention in the post, and Vu has taken pride in taking the other team's best guard out of the game defensively.

Minniti and Allen round out the starting five, though Lowery plays nine to 11 players on a nightly basis.

Juniors Katie Kilpatrick and Connie Wing and sophomores Hadley Wilhoite, Kory Oleson, Lexie Becker and Ellie Sears have played as well.

Glick and Allen say Jesuit has created a strong team rapport that wasn't always there last season, when the Crusaders finished 11-15 overall and 5-5 in the Metro. Jesuit did close 2012-13 on a strong note, however, winning five of its final six games before losing to Tigard in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs.

“We have really good team chemistry to start off the year, so it's been great,” Glick says. “One of the things our coach emphasizes is family, and it's something we say after we break the huddle in games or practice. I think it really impacts the way we play together. We know we're playing for each other, and not ourselves.”

“We're a really fun team, and we like each other,” Allen says. “It helps us play for each other and helps us play better on the court together.”

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP - Jesuit senior post Lauren Glick leads a young Crusader team looking to get to the Class 6A tournament.

Jesuit played what Lowery described as a “seasoned, quality team” in Oregon City to start the season. Though the Crusaders fell 54-29, the coach says his young team made solid progress against the top-ranked team in 6A.

The Crusaders forgot about the Pioneer loss with a 55-36 crushing of Central Catholic, clipped Camas, Wash., 51-45, and beat Milwaukie 47-41 on Tuesday.

The Crusaders have done a good job of keeping down their turnovers, Glick says, but turnovers were a problem in the past and need to be monitored.

Jesuit also is refining its technique at the free-throw line in hopes of cashing in come league play.

“Right now, we're just trying to establish our culture,” Lowery says. “We're playing hard, playing good defense, playing for 94 feet, which is different than what we've done the past couple years. We're definitely going in the right direction.”