With the preseason wrapped up like a late Christmas present and Columbia River Conference games set to start on Friday, the eyes of the CRC are still trained directly on the Hermiston Bulldogs like a crosshair. The girls’ basketball preseason slate ended with all four league teams within two games of each other in the standings, but the Bulldogs are still the early favorite as acknowledged by the coaches.
The defending conference champ Dawgs take a 7-5 record into conference play and will meet Hood River Valley (7-4) at home Friday.
“They love the fact that everybody looks up at them and wants to beat them; they thrive on that,” Hermiston coach Steve Hoffert said about his team. “I think that pressure, that intensity comes when we’re at our best. When we’ve got a goal and we’re fired up, a little pissed off maybe, we play a lot better.”
Hermiston's Maloree Moss is guarded by a Lewiston player in a Bulldogs' win earlier this season. (Photo by EJ Harris)
The keys for the Bulldogs in league play are dangling in the ignition and have been all season. Repeating what the 22-6, CRC-title winners did last year means locking in on what made that team and this year’s installment successful, senior guard Jeni Hoffert said.
“I think when we push the ball up the floor and we press — we need to press — then we are successful,” she said. “We want to be a fast paced team.”
To keep cruising, Hermiston’s core of Hoffert, Maloree Moss, Andrea Waters and Heidi Walchli will need to keep putting up the numbers that have scored them at top-five ranking in the state for Class 5A schools.
The Dawgs have been in the spotlight since the season tipped in early December but the pack has risen to par. Pendleton has the worst record in the conference at just 5-6, but a legion of dangerous outside shooters can bring them back into any game. The Lady Bucks will host The Dalles Wahtonka (7-4) Friday in Pendleton.
“To beat Pendleton, a team needs to shut their two or three really go-to players down, who are all great from the outside,” The Dalles Wahtonka assistant coach Craig Compton explained. “You have to control their tempo and their outside shooting.”
Those distance shooters — namely juniors Brittany Gregerson and Gabby Heehn — provide the backbone of the Bucks attack. The Pendleton arsenal took a shot in recent weeks when sophomore post player Shelby Sanders went down, but the emergence of Courtney Schumacher-Sweek and others in the key could add that dimension right back with practice.
The path to conference-schedule success for Pendleton lies in hanging onto the ball — the way the team did in its 59-29 victory over Baker on Tuesday. The Bucks turned the basketball over a season-low eight times.
That game could act as a springboard for the Bucks, according to senior Courtney Schumacher-Sweek, who said the team was “jacked to come out and play hard against Baker and get (Pendleton) a little building block for league play.” A year removed from a last-place CRC finish, the Bucks hope more experience translates into more wins.
The Eagle Indians present an opposite style from the quick-shooting Bucks, displaying a hard-nosed defense. The Dalles Wahtonka brings back a full squad of weapons from last year’s third-place team, led by three-year starter Anndria North at guard. Talented sophomore Emily Bailey provides some kick to go along with North’s tempo-cooling style.
“They have a lot of the same kids but have gotten a lot better in the last year,” Pendleton coach Aaron Schmidt said of The Dalles Wahtonka.