By David Bashore
Herald sports reporter
After last season's surprise Intermountain Conference championship and third-round state playoff exit, the bar has been raised even higher for Hermiston's girls basketball team.
A talented crop of faces, new and old, will lead the Lady Bulldogs in their quest to defend their championship and take a playoff run to the next level.
Departed are five seniors from last season's IMC title squad including the inspirational leader Anne Barnett, but this group is faster, perhaps a bit more talented, and hungry to get the job done.
"We're a young team and not a very big team, but we have a talented team," senior wing Sarau Morrison, leading scorer for Hermiston last season said. "It's good for us because we have a lot of depth."
Depth has always been one of the integral elements of Hermiston's basketball program, but perhaps more so in this season than others in the past.
No fewer than a dozen players will vie for minutes on the floor, something senior guard Jordan Crossley views as a good thing.
"It means we all have to work harder," Crossley said of the competition for minutes. "We're all working together, but we have to work hard."
The balance of power might be shifting toward Central Oregon in a top-heavy conference, but the Bulldogs are sure to be right there.
"Teams like Mountain View and the Bend schools are supposed to be pretty good," junior forward Michelle Coombs said.
"But I think we can play with anyone in the IMC."
It is a talent-filled squad, but one with marginal varsity experience. Crossley, Morrison and senior point guard Charly Gill are all returning starters, but beyond that the team is comprised largely of junior varsity players called up late in the season, and full-fledged junior varsity players.
Freshman Shoni Schimmel rounds out the lineup, marking the first time in a number of years that a freshman has made the varsity squad, but what role she will play is yet unknown.
What is known is that the Lady Bulldogs will hope to capitalize on their team speed and athleticism and force teams to play up-tempo with them in hopes of wearing them out in the fourth quarter.
If they can accomplish that, then a repeat as IMC champions and a deep run into the state playoffs might not be out of the question.
Hermiston's campaign kicks off tonight with a game at Lewiston, with a return engagement with the Bengals slated for 7 p.m. Friday at home.