Lady Vikings set their sights on district tournament after building 8-2 league mark

VALE – This year’s Vale girls varsity basketball team has put together an 8-2 league record on the strength of an opportunistic defense and a balanced offensive attack and now anticipates the Eastern Oregon League district tournament Friday at Eastern Oregon University in LaGrande.
If there has been any challenge this year it was finding a way to integrate a crop of young players into the varsity schedule, said coach Randy Seals.
“But honestly the younger girls have stepped up and pushed the upperclassmen to get better,” said Seals.
Other then senior Kinsey Meisinger, the Lady Vikings squad includes four juniors, two sophomores and five freshmen.
Those young players are an asset, said junior starter Haylee Cleaver.
“I feel like we have a lot of young kids that can come in. We are all pretty even but we can be physical when it matters,” said Cleaver.
Seals said his team is balanced and that pays big dividends.
“Down the line we could have one or five or six players be a leading scorer on any given night. That is a real big positive in my mind because its hard to scout and defend against that because you just don’t know who will be the leading scorer,” he said.
“I have a lot of girls who do a lot of different things,” he said.
Seals said along with Cleaver, junior Halle Peterson makes an impact defensively for the Lady Vikings while sophomore Bella Johnson “does a good job handling the ball.”
Peterson, he said, is a “great shot blocker and affects shots when players get in the key.”
“Then there are people like (junior) Kacie Jacobs who doesn’t score a lot but I can always put her on one of their best defensive players because she is one of those hard-nosed defenders,” said Seals.
Seals said senior Kinsey Meisinger is “a good outside shooter,” while freshman Kelsey Stepleton has proved to be a key player in high-pressure situations.
“We are still relatively young all things considered but we had a good group of freshmen come in and it really allowed us to practice very hard every day,” said Seals. Seals said he attributes the Vikings success to a dedicated work ethic by his team.
“We compete in practice and that is the biggest change since last year – everyone getting better by pushing each other,” said Seals. Seals said that competitiveness is a critical trait this season.
“Last year we competed and were a decent team but I felt like down the stretch we kind of stopped growing. We just didn’t get any better the last four or five games of the season. I feel like this season we’ve continually gotten better,” said Seals. Seals said he doesn’t believe the Vikings have played their “best basketball of the season yet.”
The Vikings will get the chance to play their best basketball at the district tournament in La Grande Feb. 17. There they will face familiar opponents, including Nyssa and Burns. Nyssa defeated Vale twice during the season – including a 43-41 nail-biting defeat Feb. 7. Vale defeated Burns twice this season.
Seals said his team depends on its defense.
“We try to wear you down over the length of the game. Kind of a blue-collar mentality. Defensively I think we can compete with anybody,” said Seals.
Cleaver agreed.
“We never have high-scoring games but we work at clamming people up defensively,” said Cleaver.
Meisinger said the goal of the team is to win “but play as a team.”
She said she also noticed another difference between last season and this one.
“We are keeping up with the good teams,” said Meisinger

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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