McMinnville junior point guard Macie Arzner is averaging 20.3 points and 15.2 rebounds. (Rusty Rae/News-Register)
McMinnville junior point guard Macie Arzner is averaging 20.3 points and 15.2 rebounds. (Rusty Rae/News-Register)

Depth of experience and the long-awaited emergence of junior Macie Arzner have McMinnville pushing to join the short list of contenders in 6A girls basketball.

The Grizzlies, who returned their starting lineup intact from a team that won the Pacific Conference and reached the playoff round of 16 last year, have started 11-2 and climbed to No. 6 in the 6A coaches poll.

McMinnville's only loss to an Oregon team is 70-52 against No. 4 Benson at the Capitol City Classic on Dec. 16. The Grizzlies have beaten No. 8 Jesuit 69-43 and 5A No. 5 Wilsonville 53-32.

“It's definitely one of my better teams at McMinnville,” said coach Sean Coste, who is 216-232 in 19 seasons with the Grizzlies. “I think they believe they can play with anybody.”

McMinnville brought back the reigning Pacific player of the year in 6-foot-1 senior post Madison Gerhart and a two-time first-team all-conference selection in 5-4 senior guard Peyton Justice, but a big factor in the team's improvement is the play of Arzner, a 5-11 junior guard.

Arzner, whose sister Kylee was the Pacific player of the year for McMinnville as a senior in 2020-21, has been plagued by injuries during her high school career. She missed her freshman season after suffering a dislocated kneecap, then reinjured it and didn't play until the final seven games of her sophomore season.

Now Arzner is healthy and making a big impact as the team's point guard. She is averaging 20.3 points, 15.2 rebounds and 4.0 steals, shooting 50.2 percent from the field.

She impressed at the POA Holiday Classic during the holiday break, putting up 23 points and 11 rebounds against Jesuit and 22 points and 12 rebounds in a 78-60 loss to Clovis West (Calif.).

“Her skill level is as good as any kid in the state,” Coste said. “But for her, it was her decision-making that had to catch up from missing a year-and-a-half. This year, that process has come a long way. She's doing a lot of good stuff. It's made us really tough.”

Coste said Arzner is as good as any player he's had at McMinnville.

“Her ball handling skills are elite, and she's a good shooter,” he said. “She's very athletic and strong. When she gets to the basket, it's hard to stop her with her strength.”

With Arzner at point, Gerhart (14.0 points, 7.1 rebounds) in the post and the outside shooting of Justice (10.0 points) and junior guard Rylie McManus, the offense is humming. McMinnville is averaging 64.1 points per game, up from 50.7 last season, and fourth in 6A behind No. 1 Clackamas (69.1), Benson (64.4) and No. 5 South Medford (64.2).

“It's a really good balance,”Coste said.

It helps that the Grizzlies are averaging 18.7 offensive rebounds per game.

“The kids hit the boards pretty hard, get extra possession, extra shots,” Coste said.

McMinnville likes to go inside to Gerhart, who has committed to Bushnell. She keeps defenders guessing with her inside moves.

“She's hard to stop,” Coste said. “She's very crafty. She has really good footwork. She can finish with her right or left hand. She makes a lot of double moves, which is really hard to defend.”

The Grizzlies also like to take advantage of Gerhart's passing skills from the high post.

“We run a four-out with her there,” Coste said. “We try to do a lot of back-cuts, and she's got a great feel for that, finding her teammates.”

For McMinnville to prove it belongs with the best in 6A, it must show it can handle full-court pressure. The Grizzlies struggled against the press in a 75-39 playoff loss at South Medford last year and again this season in losing to Benson and Clovis West.

Coste was encouraged, though, that his team adjusted to the pressure after falling behind Benson early.

“We were just nervous going into that game,” he said. “We played rattled and hurried. Once we got through the first quarter, we kind of settled down, and then it was a pretty even game. It was really good for us to see teams that offer relentless pressure, and how we handled it as we got better at it.”

McMinnville last made the state tournament in 2020, when it stunned No. 3 seed West Linn 57-53 in the round of 16 and fell to South Salem in the quarterfinals.

“This team has a good chance of doing something like that, too, if they play together and continue to get better,” Coste said. “The nice thing about this team is they're all from McMinnville. It's kind of fun when the kids come through a system.”

Silverton's Brown goes for 37

Silverton senior Kyleigh Brown erupted for a school-record 37 points to lead the No. 3 Foxes (8-3) to a 66-51 home win over No. 4 South Albany (9-3) in a 5A Mid-Willamette Conference game Monday.

The 5-8 Brown shot 14 of 19 from the field, making two three-pointers, and 7 of 8 on free throws. She also had nine rebounds, six assists and seven steals.

Brown is averaging 23 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three steals this season. Coach Alyssa Ogle said that Brown is playing “amazingly” on both ends of the court.

“On the offensive end, we have always known she can score and create for her teammates, but this year she is at another level,” Ogle said. “Our players around her are stepping up and scoring much more, as well, and that is allowing her more freedom to showcase her talents as the best player in the state.

“Defensively, she has such an IQ for the ball, and does a great job of anticipating and reading the plays.”

Freshman sparks CV

The hot shooting of freshman guard Payton Starwalt has helped vault Crescent Valley (5-6, 4-1) into the race in the Mid-Willamette. In five conference games, Starwalt is averaging 22.5 points.

For the season, the 5-6 Starwalt is averaging 17.5 points, 5.0 assists and 5.0 steals. She has scored in double figures in 10 of the team's 11 games, including a 34-point game.

Starwalt is shooting 52 percent from the field, 41 percent on three-pointers and 84 percent on free throws. She has made 25 of 63 from behind the arc despite dealing with double-teams.