High school athletics is a constantly revolving door. By the time players reach their prime, they’re back outside moving on to the next venture — one reason high school dynasties are so truly impressive, but that’s a column for another day.
As graduation saps programs of its Friday night heroes and heroines, coaches are left to pick up the pieces with a new group, players who too will move on in no time at all.
But rebuilding doesn’t always come from within. A solid transfer student athlete, a player who switches schools and districts for one reason or another, can add a major boost — often unexpectedly.
But the addition of senior 3-point machine Gabby Heehn and junior post Shelby Sanders, two starters when the 2011-12 season opened in Pendleton, meant coach Steve Hoffert wasn’t starting over in terms of experience. Could the Dawgs be just as dangerous as the Class 5A final-site squad of yesteryear behind this new lineup? Too early to tell.
“I think they’re ready to fill in,” Hermiston’s lone returning senior Heidi Walchli told the East Oregonian before her team’s first game. “We have a bunch of new surprises on our team, so we’ll throw (our opponents) a fast one.”
When the Heehn and Sanders duo landed, a troublesome hole was left in Pendleton distinctly the size of an inside presence and a hot-handed outside shooter. Add to that the departure of senior Brittany Gregerson, last year’s point guard now in Stanfield, and the Bucks were looking at a mass exodus.
Luckily, perhaps, for Pendleton, the Buckaroos got a little transfer magic of their own. Senior Lainey Corbett arrived in the Round-Up City a year after playing for a Class 4A state title in Sutherlin. Through the season’s first week, Corbett is looking like a team MVP already. She went for a triple-double in her second game against Baker on Tuesday with 10 points, 12 assists and 11 steals.
She was close to quadruple-double numbers with rebounding added to the equation in the Bucks’ season opening loss the Friday before as well.
The Pendleton situation’s peculiarity was matched only by its rarity with such high-profile transfers going both ways in a single offseason. On top of Corbett, the Bucks also picked up a pair of sophomore transfers from nearby Helix that are starring on the junior varsity squad.
“This is the first year that that’s really happened,” Pendleton coach Aaron Schmidt said of all the movin’ and shakin’. “The three girls leaving, that was really unexpected, but we wish them well. Are we hurting without them? No, we’re fine and in some ways we’re maybe even better.”
And a lot of that comes from Corbett, as skilled of a distributor of passes as runner of the game on the court.
“She clicked right away with the girls,” Schmidt said. “When she’s on the floor, she’s real unselfish. She’s a good basketball player, probably the best guard we’ve had in Pendleton in awhile.”
Back in Hermiston, the boys’ team also picked up Echo’s CJ Flores, but the Bucks and Bulldogs are far from monopolizing the transfer trend in Eastern Oregon this winter sports season. Pilot Rock added to both its boys’ and girls’ teams with the addition of Nixyaawii starters Josh Barkley and Taryn Ostrom in the offseason. And Gregerson’s 5A chops now at the 2A level with Stanfield, paired with a 2A state champion coach from last year in Kyle Cowan, have the Tigers thinking postseason.
And the influx of transfers aren’t subject to just basketball. Irrigon added Jamie Thomas, a state qualifier with Hermiston two seasons ago, and a former state champion is now wrestling at Mac-Hi. Jessie Jones won one in Nevada last winter before moving into Milton-Freewater.
With all the new guys (and gals) in play, there’s certainly plenty of story lines to watch as this season progresses. And as they find some chemistry with those new teammates, the rewards should only continue to ripen.
Contact AJ Mazzolini firstname.lastname@example.org or (541) 966-0839.