The Hermiston High School girls basketball team doesnt have much room for improvement as the Bulldogs are coming off a third place finish at the 5A state tournament just a year ago. That wont stop them from trying to get even farther this season, however.
The Bulldogs return seven players from last years trophy-earning squad, including three starters and the first player off the bench, known as the sixth man. The team lost two seniors and three transfers after last season. Hermiston head coach Steve Hoffert said he likes this years squad, even with some unexpected departures.
We are still very deep, he said. Whats great about our program is we have a lot of girls who will seize an opportunity. We havent missed a beat with the new girls that have come in. Weve had a few really step up for us.
Even with seven returner players from last years squad, the Bulldogs can still be considered a young team with three seniors on the roster this year. Hoffert said getting to play a lot of varsity minutes last season helped his young squad improve more than what he would normally expect.
Every girl thats coming back got significant playing time last year, Hoffert said. The amount of time they played at this level last season will be a tremendous asset for us this year. They played against some of the best competition around and took full advantage of those opportunities.
Hoffert said that experience will benefit his club this year in many ways.
First of all, they know what to expect, he said. They know what kind of work its going to take to get back to state. Just having that information fed our girls all summer. Theyve already shown a lot of that experience that comes with playing a year or two at the varsity level.
Given the make-up of his current team, Hoffert said this years Bulldogs will be one of his fastest teams ever. He said he wants his team to take 60 to 70 shots a game.
We have a tremendous amount of team speed, he said. Its not just in our guards, which are extremely fast with the ball. Its everyone. We are going to push it up and down the floor this season.
Sophomore point guard Jansen Edmiston will play a major role in the Bulldogs breakneck pace this season. As a freshman playing on varsity, she averaged eight points, 3.4 assists and nearly four steals a game for the Bulldogs. She agreed this team is much faster than the Bulldog team she played on last season.
Our speed will hopefully cause some problems for other teams, she said. Last year, we started playing at a slower pace. Were not going to do that this season.
That speed will be used to offset what the Bulldogs are losing from last years team, Hoffert said, namely outside-shooting depth. He said, however, he hopes to find a few new players to fill the void.
Weve got a couple of great shooters on this team, he said. Im looking for a couple more to fill our arsenal. We have a few spots in our offense where girls will get some easy and open looks. Our offense is predicated on being able to make open jumpers. Its the one area well have to improve upon in order to do as well or better than we did last year.
Hoffert said he hopes his team also improves its consistency and discipline.
We are very quick and strong defensively, he said. We have to learn to be disciplined in our defense and in our offense. Sometimes quickness is hard to harness and corral. Thats what could get this team into trouble if we arent able to use our quickness in a constructive way.
Hoffert said he slows things down during practice to teach the players how to best use their quickness.
We put them in situations in practice where they have to slow down, he said. Obviously, we want to run, but that can turn into sloppy play if youre not careful. I try to get my team to think about different situations and when to run or when to slow it down. That way, they can make the right decision during a game.
Speed wont be Hermistons only strength this season. The Bulldogs should be able to clean up well around the glass as the team returns two of its leading rebounders from last years team.
Seniors Shelby Sanders and McKenzie Byrd combined to pull down more than 22 rebounds per game for Hermiston last season.
Byrd, a forward for the Bulldogs, also averaged 8.4 points and 2.1 steals per game. She said defense will be a strength for this years squad.
We are going to use our speed to our advantage on the defensive side, as well as on offense, she said. Weve got so much speed, we want to use that pace to force other teams into mistakes. Its really going to be a focus of ours this season.
Sanders agreed with Byrd.
I definitely think its going to be one of the stronger parts of our game as a team, she said. Weve been working on team defense a lot in practice. Its something we take pride in doing well.
Sanders, a post who has signed a national letter of intent to play basketball at Portland State University next year, averaged 8.2 points and 2.1 blocks per contest last season to accompany her 11 rebounds.
Hoffert said his team goes into every game wanting to win, but that doesnt determine a successful campaign.
Every coach and player in this program wants to win, he said.
We measure our success by wins and losses but also by the growth we made as a team and as individuals. Regardless of how the year turns out, its our hope that at the end of the year everyone can feel good about what theyve accomplished. We dont have to like what happened if we dont win, but we dont want to have any regrets.
The Bulldogs tip off their season against the Lewiston High School Bengals at 7 p.m. Friday at Hermiston High School.