GILCHRIST —

Wednesday’s practice, Gilchrist’s last of 2018, ends with a shoot-off.

The girls start the contest at the free-throw line, then move to the elbow and short corner, before finishing behind the 3-point arc.

The prizes include Nutella, Snapple, M&M’s, Sour Patch Kids and Pringles.

The game is a fun way to head into winter break for Gilchrist, which is off to a promising start to the 2018-19 season.

After winning just three games a year ago, the Grizzlies are 6-1.

“This year I’m more engaged and I feel more excited to go to games and practice,” said senior Rylee Hoover, who along with her sister Rayenee, a junior, are two key players behind Gilchrist’s turnaround.

The Grizzles did not start the season looking like a team ready to take a leap forward.

After winning its first two games by forfeit, Gilchrist was blown out at home 47-10 by North Lake on Dec. 5 to open Mountain Valley League play.

But Rayenee Hoover spent most of that game on the bench in foul trouble, and senior Kendra Spurlock, a starting forward, did not play at all.

The Grizzlies rebounded to win their own tournament by defeating La Pine’s JV 56-15 on Dec. 7 and Bend’s JV 29-13 on Dec. 8.

“That was fun because we hadn’t won anything, really,” says Rylee Hoover, who was voted to the all-tournament team along with her sister.

Rayenee had 11 points and 12 steals in the championship game, while Rylee added six points and six steals.

Spurlock finished with eight points, nine rebounds and three blocks.

Gilchrist then backed up the two tournament wins with league victories over Prospect Charter and Central Christian.

The Grizzlies also have a new coach in Jason Dornhecker.

“Our coach really pushes us,” Spurlock says. “He coaches us before he is friends with us, which is really important. It’s crazy how much we’ve learned this year.”

Dornhecker is in his second year at Gilchrist, where he teaches sixth grade. Dornhecker coached the boys basketball team last season and was set to head both the boys and girls programs this winter. But the Grizzlies boys, who won three games with six players last season, did not have enough boys to participate this year after their best returning player, sophomore Jacob Spurlock, Kendra’s brother, broke an arm playing football.

“I think we finished three games with less than five players,” Dornhecker says of the Gilchrist boys squad last season. “It’s tough with the boys right now. It seems like there’s an influx of girls being born.”

Hoping to increase future participation, Dornhecker held a free basketball camp last spring for fifth- and sixth-graders.

“There’s been zero basketball going on,” Dornhecker says. “There’s not one person playing basketball at recess. That’s a little strange. That’s the big change right now is trying to build it with those young guys.”

After playing basketball and baseball at Concordia University in Portland, Dornhecker started his coaching career in Stayton. For 16 years, he coached multiple sports at the middle and high school.

Dornhecker’s basketball players would go to team camp in the summer. He wanted to do the same at Gilchrist, but he discovered that camps were not practical for players who commonly held summer jobs to help support their families.

Gilchrist is a Title 1 school, which means at least 40 percent of its students come from low-income families, qualifying the Klamath County school for federally funded financial assistance.

“Every basketball team in the state goes to a team camp, and we haven’t done that,” Dornhecker says. “That’s unheard of. Just have them together and have that camaraderie piece. I think they’re missing that, where you get to know each other a heck of a lot better.”

Kendra Spurlock, who is one of five children, did not play basketball last season to work after school at a Subway sandwich shop in Chemult, about 20 miles south of Gilchrist on U.S. Highway 97.

“It just felt weird,” Spurlock says of missing her junior basketball season. “Now that I can be out here with them, doing what I can, it feels good.”

Spurlock’s sister Sam is a freshman on the basketball team. They live with their father in Chemult.

“It’s something that I’ve been looking forward to,” Sam Spurlock says of playing varsity basketball with her sister.

Kendra wishes they could have played together sooner.

“If she does something wrong, she’s pretty sensitive,” Kendra Spurlock says. “If I’d spent more time with her, it would have thickened her skin a little bit.”

While Gilchrist is 22-40 over the previous three basketball seasons, the Grizzlies have experienced success in other sports.

As sophomores, Rylee Hoover and Katie McDaniel, Gilchrist’s starting point guard this season, ran on the 4x100 relay team that won the Class 1A track and field state championship.

McDaniel, the Hoover sisters and Kendra Spurlock then finished fifth in the state in the 4x400 last spring.

All four girls also play volleyball at Gilchrist. The past fall, the Grizzlies finished 11-2 in the Mountain Valley League.

“It proves that we’re capable of working together,” Spurlock says, referring to the group’s success across the seasons.

To turn around the basketball program, Dornhecker is focusing on defense and fundamentals.

“It’s just all about wanting to work hard, and these girls every time they step on the floor, I haven’t had one complaint,” Dornhecker says. “They just give everything they have. It’s awesome to see. It’s very rewarding as a coach, not having to worry about the hustle part and effort, and they’re enthusiastic and funny. It’s a good bunch of girls.”

Gilchrist’s next game is Jan. 3 at home against Rogue Valley Adventist Academy. The Grizzlies will get another shot at North Lake on Jan. 25 in Silver Lake.

“They’re pretty good, but they’re very beatable,” Dornhecker says of the 5-4 Cowgirls. “If we do our stuff and focus on our stuff, I think we’ll be totally fine. It will be a good game though. We’re looking forward to it. That’s one you circle on your schedule. Let’s show them.”

The 48-year-old Dornhecker, who has also coached at Warm Springs and then taught for a year at Crook County Middle School, has found a home at Gilchrist.

“I can see myself retiring here,” he says. “I can see sticking around and building it and seeing how far I can take it.

“I want somebody to come into this gym, and I want it to be packed,” Dornhecker adds, looking around at the distinctive wooden walls and bleachers. “I could see that when they interviewed me. I walked in here and saw ‘Hoosiers’ (the 1986 movie about a small-town Indiana high school basketball team that wins the state championship). I want the kids to have something to look forward to, something outside of school, a good fundamental program.”

­­— Reporter: 541-383-0307, dwiley@bendbulletin.com

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