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By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian


At any given point in my life, I think I could fashion a decent enough guess to where I was one year before that. But as I write this sentence, I can pinpoint exactly where I was a year ago, to the minute and to the inch.

I was in the visitor’s section of the bleachers at Warberg Court watching the Pendleton Buckaroos host the Hermiston Bulldogs for volleyball.

It was my first day at the East Oregonian.


 
 
By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian


On Sept. 7 the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, lifted nearly all regulations on Thief Valley Reservoir fishing. No bag limits, no size limits. Catch was allowed by pole, net or hand should the daring angler so choose.

Thief Valley seemed headed for the kind of fishing free-for-all worthy of the body of water’s name, a true Wild West of bountiful catch.

 
 
By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

In sports reporting — and really any other kind of reporting but let’s not worry about those newsies right now — interviews are half the job. And when you find an interviewee who can give you gold, you keep digging there.

Take Bob Green for instance. The long-time football coach at Montana Tech (you know, those guys that sometimes play EOU) was the greatest sound bite manufacturer in the history of sports journalism. For college football fans growing up in Montana like myself, Green’s spontaneous post-game press conferences were legendary, riddled with such gems as:

 
 
By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian


I started this job at the beginning of October last fall. The Pendleton Round-Up was just far enough in the rearview mirror that this town had shaken off its rodeo hangover (mostly) and returned to normal (again, mostly).

So it took a full year for me to finally see cattle and cowboys on the grass of the Round-Up Arena instead of high school Buckaroos.

 
 
By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

The Hermiston girls’ basketball loss at the Class 5A state tournament this week signaled the end of winter in the Eastern Oregon sports world. The sharp “pings” of metal bats and and the taste of sunflower seeds are right around the corner but before we fully let go of the hardwood, let’s take a look back at a few of the most exciting — or excruciating — moments between the nets from this season.

Disclaimer: With the number of games across the region played on both the girls’ and boys’ sides, and for the ease of my own poor memory, I’ve picked from only the games I personally covered and saw with my own peepers.

Let’s keep with the Hermiston girls for a moment and harken back to the season’s fresh start. Guard Maloree Moss wrapped up an impressive career as a Bulldog this year and the highlight of her senior season came on Dec. 16 in a preseason game against some Idahoans from Lewiston.
 
 
By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

Nine-year old Sam Schwirse is good at shooting free throws. And not just good for his age. He represented northeast Oregon at the state Elks Hoop Shoot free throw shooting contest this weekend in Salem. The kid hit 21-of-25 from the charity stripe in the Hermiston-wide round of the competition and would have had 22 had it not been for a line fault.

That’s 84 percent! For some perspective, Shaquille O’Neal, who made nearly $300 million during his 20 years in the NBA, was a career 52.7 percent shooter of free throws.

“They’re fun because they’re easy to shoot,” said Schwirse, currently honing his basketball skills as a third grader at Highland Hills Elementary in Hermiston.
 
 
_By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

You talk to almost any parent and they can give you a detailed account of why youth sports are influential for the kids. You talk with a high school coach and not only are youth sports important for the players, they are quite important for that coach.

It was through these means that the Hermiston Basketball Club morphed into its current format, creating a minor-league type system along with the usual learn-the-basics, team-building experiences that most kids’ athletics offer.

Because when kids play competitively at an earlier age, they start to develop into real ball players before they hit the high school ranks.

“That’s the goal at least, it really is,” said Larry Usher, Hermiston High’s former boys’ basketball coach and one of the locals responsible for youth basketball’s explosion in Hermiston. “You talk to any high school head coach when classes of players come through, you need a solid class at every grade. You need solid classes one after another to be very competitive.”
 
 

The EO's All-Name Team

The East Oregnian
_By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

Journalism is all about people, and people are at the heart of one of the most crucial rules of the game: spelling names correctly.

Unfortunately, in the world of prep sports reporting, some parents don’t do us in the business any favors with their unique takes on classic names for their children. The winds are right for making a fool of one’s self if you don’t check the way that McKayla is spelled. I mean, of course there’s a ‘Q’ in McQuayla!

What once was a mild irritant, I’ve transformed into my own little newsroom game. I log away the prep basketball names I run across that make me smile the most. Or leave me puzzled and stammering while hoping a pronunciation guide will fall out of the sky.

So without further ado, AJ Mazzolini’s All-East Oregon Name Team. Since this is a hypothetical basketball team based solely on the resumes of names, we won’t worry about schools or positions or grades.

 
 
By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

I’ve reported on high school sports in Eastern Oregon for a little less than two months, roughly two-thirds of the fall sports season. In that time, I’ve watched countless athletes illuminate after a victory on the pitch. Others have slumped to the turf after a hard-fought loss. Still others were left standing emotionless on the court, the moment of jubilation or grief having not quite settled.

The young athletes that I’ve talked with will always register with these specific sports for me because that’s where we met first. When I hear the name Crystal Schmidt, my mind will forever zip to Hermiston volleyball — even though she’s told me track is really her best sport. Bryan Beard makes me think Pendleton tight end long before basketball center — even though I’m told he’s much more dominant on the court.

That line blurred a bit in recent weeks as schools pack in their fall sports season and the basketball hoops, wrestling mats and swim caps come out of storage. Because unlike the athletes that I’ve painted in my head, the real ones that go to these schools don’t go into hibernation with winter. They just change jerseys.
 
 
By AJ MAZZOLINI
East Oregonian

Though they may have lost the battle at Pendleton’s Round-Up Grounds Friday night, coach Mark Hodges’ troops are far from out of the war.

The Bulldogs (5-3, 2-1 CRC) fell to Pendleton 26-12 in their last regular season game as the Bucks came away with the Columbia River Conference championship. Both teams will enter the state playoffs, though, and as long as the Bulldogs have a pulse in 2011, they’re still a dangerous team.

A good portion of that danger comes from senior running back Bobby Adams, the catalyst to Hermiston’s offense and their success this season. The Buckaroos were able to corral Adams on Friday for 80 yards, but the back still rushed for more than five yards per carry. He still had plenty of holes to run through and some of the explosive cutbacks that have defined Hermiston’s season. The trouble was Pendleton kept the ball out of the hands of the Bulldogs’ offense.