Bulldog girls hoops hope to get back to state

<p> Hermiston Bulldogs girls basketball players scrimmage during practice Wednesday at Hermiston High School. The Bulldogs tip off their season Friday against Lewiston at home.</p>

The Hermiston High School girls basketball team doesn’t 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 won’t stop them from trying to get even farther this season, however.

The Bulldogs return seven players from last year’s 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 year’s squad, even with some unexpected departures.

“We are still very deep,” he said. “What’s great about our program is we have a lot of girls who will seize an opportunity. We haven’t missed a beat with the new girls that have come in. We’ve had a few really step up for us.”

Even with seven returner players from last year’s 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 that’s 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 it’s going to take to get back to state. Just having that information fed our girls all summer. They’ve 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 year’s 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. “It’s not just in our guards, which are extremely fast with the ball. It’s 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. We’re not going to do that this season.”

That speed will be used to offset what the Bulldogs are losing from last year’s team, Hoffert said, namely outside-shooting depth. He said, however, he hopes to find a few new players to fill the void.

“We’ve got a couple of great shooters on this team,” he said. “I’m 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. It’s the one area we’ll 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. That’s what could get this team into trouble if we aren’t 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 you’re 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 won’t be Hermiston’s 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 year’s 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 year’s squad.

“We are going to use our speed to our advantage on the defensive side, as well as on offense,” she said. “We’ve got so much speed, we want to use that pace to force other teams into mistakes. It’s really going to be a focus of ours this season.”

Sanders agreed with Byrd.

“I definitely think it’s going to be one of the stronger parts of our game as a team,” she said. “We’ve been working on team defense a lot in practice. It’s 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 doesn’t 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, it’s our hope that at the end of the year everyone can feel good about what they’ve accomplished. We don’t have to like what happened if we don’t win, but we don’t 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.

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