Titans must break shackles of youth to defend title

03/11/2017 08:54

By Jarrid Denney | For The Register-Guard

Lane has its sights set on a second consecutive Northwest Athletic Conference women’s basketball championship, but if the Titans hope to defend their 2016 conference title, they’ll have to do so with one of the youngest teams in school history.

The Titans will begin tournament play in Everett, Wash., at 10 p.m. today when they face Columbia Basin. Lane has been a fixture in the late rounds of the tournament for the past decade, and the Titans have reached the NWAC Final Four every year since 2013.

The Titans enter this year’s tournament in the unfamiliar position of underdog and carry a roster loaded with freshmen, but the expectation remains the same for Lane coach Greg Sheley.

“At our level, ‘freshman’ is an interesting term,” Sheley said. “When we recruit, we basically tell them that they have about two weeks of practice and three games before we don’t call them freshmen anymore. … So I think we have a lot of experience with our freshmen.”

The Titans (25-4) held the No. 4 spot in the final NWAC coaches poll, but will enter the tournament as a No. 2 seed after finishing second in the NWAC Southern Region to Umpqua — the top team in the NWAC.

After cruising to a 2016 title with a roster stocked with talented sophomores, Lane began this year with two sophomores on its roster. That number was cut in half when Mallory Shields, the returning Southern Region freshman of the year, was lost at the start of the season with a knee injury.

That left Jordan Rodriguez as Lane’s only returning sophomore, and she led the Titans in assists while running an offense full of newcomers.

“The tournament is a whole different thing, and that’s where a little bit of sophomore leadership and tournament experience would really help us,” Sheley said. “That’s where we’re going to lean heavily on Rodriguez and her experience from last year.”

The loss of Shields was softened a bit by the arrival of two local players who have combined to carry the scoring load for the Titans. Sarah Hall, a former Sheldon standout, leads the Titans in scoring at 16.7 points per game and is also averaging 8.5 rebounds. Sierra Carrier, a first-team all-Midwestern League selection at North Eugene last year, is Lane’s leading rebounder (9.4) and averages 15.7 points per game. Both players were selected to the All-Southern Region first team.

“You don’t want to have to go far away if you don’t have to to get kids who can help you win,” Sheley said. “The fact that both of them are local and have helped us so much this year is pretty exciting.”