After finishing fourth in Class 5A last season, the Hermiston girls’ basketball team is ready for another playoff run.

This year’s club may have lost its leading scorer, Kayleigh Barnitz, to graduation, but according to head coach Steve Hoffert, they’ve added quite a bit as well.

“We’ve added more depth and more stability at each position,” he said. “We feel we have more offensive firepower than last year’s team.”

That’s a pretty bold statement considering the Bulldogs led the Intermountain Conference in scoring — and were fifth in Class 5A — last year, averaging just over 55 points a night.

They finished second in the IMC with a 10-4 mark and 19-6 overall. When playing Oregon Class 5A competition, the Dawgs were 15-5.

The graduation of Mary Barnett — a 6 foot, 1 inch post — and unexpected loss of 5-10 Kayla Blankenship created an immediate need underneath the bucket for the Dawgs. Senior Courtney Walchli and junior Crystal Schmidt have stepped up to fill the void down low, and both have enough range to step out and hit a mid-range jump shot.

Where the real obvious strength of the team is, however, is its guard play. Led by honorable-mention all-state point guard junior Maloree Moss, every player on the perimeter has the skills to light it up from outside or get to the rim off the dribble.

“Our guard play is a big advantage for us,” Hoffert said. “All of them can shoot 3s, they’re quick and they defend.”

Andrea Waters, Jeni Hoffert, Callahan Crossley and Gracie Flyg will also be relied upon for solid perimeter play. Senior guard Saraya Wise will also be a key contributor in the backcourt mix for Hermiston.

Down on the blocks with Walchli and Schmidt will be another Walchli — Heidi. The sophomore has the ability to not just perform in the post game, but can stretch defenses out with her shooting range.

Whether assigned to an inside of outside spot on offense, the bottom line is that anyone who puts on purple and gold can shoot the basketball

Defensively, opponents will be facing the same thing as years past: waves of in-your-face defending via the full-court press.

“We’re going to aggressive and fast,” Hoffert said. “We’re don’t want teams to get comfortable against us.”

And they won’t if the Dawgs execute the array of zone-trap and man presses Hoffert employs. With the team’s speed and ability at a pretty high level, there’s no reason to think otherwise.

Hermiston will have a test against Oregon opponents at the Nike Interstate Shootout, held Dec. 27-30 in Lake Oswego.

While the preseason docket will have the Dawgs more than prepared for the CRC slate, Hoffert knows his team won’t waltz through the league on talent alone. He feels an extra burden on his staff and himself due to the CRC schedule being the way it is.

“It forces coaches to be efficient in how they do things,” he said. “You have to be efficient in order to make the small tweaks and adjustments you need to, If you aren’t efficient, then you just create chaos.”

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