MERRILL — After losing one of the top female basketball players to play at Lost River, the program knew change was unpreventable.
After Rachel Parks graduated last season, the Raiders have had to rely on each other more than ever.
The change kept coming and brought a new face as the team's head coach this season in Randy Denson.
The first-year coach has helped the Raiders to a 3-5 record so far and earned their most lopsided win of the year Friday night versus Gold Beach, 60-10.
The Raiders did not need to lift a finger in order to gain a distinctive advantage versus the Panthers.
By the end of the first quarter, Gold Beach fell behind, 16-2. Lost River only allowed two field goals the entire first half and took a 32-4 lead into halftime.
Denson has had a history of being around female basketball.
His older sister, Amy Denson, after playing at Arizona State, played professional basketball overseas.
While he was getting his special education degree at the University of Oregon, he spent time being on a practice team that was paired against the Ducks women's basketball team, which was led by former head coach, Paul Westhead.
After he spent last year as a Henley freshman basketball coach, Denson knew he wanted to be a head girls basketball coach.
His interview this past spring at Lost River was his first time ever at the high school.
“Rachel Parks was an unbelievable athlete and Tim did a good job with the team but we had to have a different mindset going in that everyone had to contribute,” Denson said. “It has always been an ambition to be a head coach for a girls team. Since I was three or four, I was always in a high school gym and it was always girls basketball. I have a lot of friends who coached Division I women's basketball. It is nice to ask for advise”
Denson, a Klamath Union graduate, earned a special education degree at Oregon in 2016 and currently works for the Klamath County School District.
Denson recalled taking a trip to Australia once to watch his older sister play professionally.
Senior Makenzie Girtman and junior Angela Taylor were the leading scorers against Gold Beach and each had 16 points.
Girtman had a near double double and ended with nine rebounds. Ashleigh Taylor ended with six points and nine rebounds.
“I think what is important is to have everything come together and realize all our hard work is starting to pay off,” Girtman said. “During the game, it is every one who contributes, not just one player and that is very important.”
“We have all had to step up a lot. At the end of last year when Rachel got hurt, it was hard because we were young. Now we have tried to reach our different goals,” Ashleigh Taylor said. “We have worked hard to get where we are. We do not want to overlook a team and want to play each team as they are the best.”
Along with Taylor and Girtman, Daniela Duran, Demary Roman and Angela Taylor make up the current starting lineup.
Girtman is the only senior.
“They have above a 3.0 GPA, never get in trouble and are a tight-knit group. It is easy for me to walk in and do the things we do because they respect me, ask questions and work hard. I do not even have to ask them to work hard. They bring it every day,” Denson said. “It is pretty easy to sit here and be the coach when they are taking care of the team and tell each other to come to practice and hustle.”
The Southern Cascade League looks a little different this year after two-time defending Class 2A state champion Monroe is now in the Central Valley Conference.
Rogue River, Bonanza and Glide will be the Raiders toughest opponents in league play.
“I like to go into the stores here because the people embrace you like family,” Denson said. “That is why this is a place I do not want to ever leave.”