Nothing comes easily against Crescent Valley High’s swarming half-court defense.
From creating an open shot to completing a pass, opposing offenses have struggled to crack the Raiders’ matchup zone.
CV collected 25 steals apiece in its first two games en route to blowout victories over Aloha (88-51) and Roosevelt (68-52). The Raiders were back at it Tuesday night against visiting Century, forcing several more turnovers in a 55-29 nonconference win.
“Our defense really picked it up, and that’s what we rely on the most,” said Cali McClave, who led all players with 16 points. “We get a lot of opportunities because of how good our defense is and how good Vanessa Taylor is up top. All the rest of us can just figure it out off that.”
Taylor, a senior guard, mans the top of CV’s (3-0) matchup zone. The defense resembles a 1-2-2 with an emphasis on generating live-ball turnovers.
The Raiders surrendered just 10 made field goals against Century (1-2).
“We’ve played all three games with a high level of intensity on defense,” first-year CV coach Eric Gower said. “Our goal is to put pressure on the other team and try to get people into traps. We don’t chase, and the girls are doing a great job of that.”
CV scored the game’s first nine points — five coming from McClave — while crafting a 17-6 lead after the opening quarter. Many of the buckets came in transition following a steal.
Foul trouble forced the junior point guard to sit out most of the second period, allowing the Jaguars to claw their way back into it. A 9-0 Century run cut the deficit to 17-15 before a Peyton Dale 3-pointer with 1:55 remaining ended the scoring drought.
The Raiders, who led 22-15 at the break, put it away with a 17-0 spurt in the third. Two straight baskets from freshman Ana McClave — Cali McClave’s younger sister — made it 39-19.
Dale finished with 13 points while Gwen Gray tallied 10. Both players are sophomores.
Kess LaCounte came off the bench to lead Century with 10 points.
Seven freshmen — Jada Foster, Kalehua Wa’a, Piper Love, Anna Wilson, Emma Vawter, Brooklyn Plemmons and Ana McClave — played for the Raiders. Taylor and Nicole Moore are the team’s lone seniors while Cali McClave and Lexie Garrett represent the junior class.
“I’ve never had so many freshmen on varsity, so it’s definitely a learning experience,” said Gower, who spent the past two years as an assistant at 6A Sheldon. “Luckily we have some older kids that have shown great leadership and are really warriors out there. That allows the freshmen to come in for little bits here and there as we try to ease them in.”
Cali McClave, an honorable mention all-Mid-Willamette Conference selection last year, has enjoyed playing with her sibling.
Both McClaves started Tuesday’s game in the backcourt.
“It’s been really fun being on varsity with her,” the elder McClave said. “I can just kind of throw her the ball and I know she’ll get it somehow, even if it’s a bad pass.”
Gower has taken over for longtime coach Craig Ellingson, who retired from coaching after last season. Ellingson remains CV’s athletic director.
The Raiders finished 11-12 overall in 2016-17.
A 2003 McMinnville High graduate, Gower attended the University of Oregon and was Churchill’s head varsity coach from 2012-15. He is currently a teacher at Cheldelin Middle School.
“I was actually planning to come up here and help Craig,” Gower said. “Then he decided to retire and I got the opportunity to take over. I am really excited to be here. He had always talked about what a great group of kids it is, and it’s been a blast so far.”
Added Cali McClave: “It’s been a great adjustment. We’ve had no issues at all and I think he really clicks with us and the team. We’ve really enjoyed having him.”
The Raiders are back at it Friday night with another nonleague game at Milwaukie. CV opens MWC play Jan. 9 at Silverton.