Winning can create some lofty expectations, especially when anything less than success is unacceptable. Most of the girls who will lace up their sneakers and dribble into the Dawg House to defend consecutive Columbia River Conference girls basketball titles next winter weren’t dribbling the last time the Bulldog girls basketball program missed the playoffs.

Back then, their parents made them sit in a high chair and wear a bib. HHS has been represented in the OSAA girls basketball playoffs every season dating back to 1996. Put another way, the Bulldogs have had 17 consecutive playoff appearances and 12 trips to the state tournament during that time span, and expect to play basketball in March.

The seven graduates of the Class of 2012 who helped the program win two state tournament trophies and make three consecutive trips to the state tournament have raised the bar even higher over the past few years.

The fact that it won’t be easy to fill the shoes of four starters and three reserves doesn’t lessen the pressure on the next varsity Bulldog team.

Steve Hoffert’s team doesn’t get to have a rebuilding year, not just because of what the most recent graduating class did but because of almost two decades of graduating classes. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

“You’re expected to play at a high level at Hermiston, you’re expected to compete at a high level and I expect nothing else,” Hoffert said.

“I’m sure the fans will see once we start the season and once they see our team and how we play and see our size and what we can do, I think the expectations will be ‘Well this isn’t a rebuilding year.’”

Added pressure can be healthy for the team. It lets them know that fans legitimately care about the team. It’s the same motivation that has been created for the other incredibly successful winter program, the Bulldog wrestlers. Hoffert thinks lofty expectations for the program are essential.

“I think we need to have that pressure. The girls need to have that pressure when they get into conference play, if they are going to go to the Nike Interstate Shootout, if they are going to Eugene and play at that level they should have that pressure when the season starts and I’ll be the first one to apply it to them,” Hoffert said.

“We have a tough preseason next year and I’ll be the first to let them know what is expected and what is not expected and what is acceptable. I think we have the girls that can do it, I just don’t know if we have the experience to do it right away. That is the one thing I worry about is our experience.”

Experience at the varsity level will be one of the largest question marks for this team but it might not be that big. The Bulldogs will have juniors Marissa Crowe and Mckenzie Byrd in the post and sophomore Tavin Headings at guard with varsity time and minutes at the state tournament.

Plus the one returning starter at forward, senior Heidi Walchli, who has more experience than any other returning Bulldog. And Walchli has already established herself as a scoring threat from outside the arc and by attacking the basket. Hermiston’s program also benefits from a couple cross-county transfers who will make an immediate impact.

Swapping green for purple, senior shooting guard Gabby Heehn and junior post Shelby Sanders have joined the two-time CRC champs. Both families made their intentions known this spring and both have OSAA approval to be playing with the Bulldogs summer program, which will help with the transition to a new program with a very different system. Both Sanders and Heehn will help add some varsity experience to the post Maloree-Jeni-Andrea-Gracie-Callahan-Cheyanne-Haley Bulldogs.

The additions don’t necessarily change the expectations the Bulldog program usually takes into a season but they help clarify how the Bulldogs will get there next season.

“The expectations are to win the CRC and go undefeated [in conference play],” Hoffert said. “With the transfers we have and with some of the size and length that we have, we’ve got the opportunity to be number one next year in the conference and I think legitimately win all nine ball games. I don’t see any reason we can’t if we figure out how to play at this level.”

Hoffert had a group of girls over in Hillsboro this week. Playing without most of the girls with prior HHS varsity experience, the Bulldogs finished second at the Century Tournament with a 3-1 record then fourth place at the Liberty Tournament with a 2-4 record.

Of the four losses at Liberty HS three were by a single point and the fourth was a three-point margin. All were against 6A (or 6A equivalent in the case of Union HS of Vancouver) schools.

Fans can get a summer snap shot of the new faces on the team starting today. The Bulldog program is hosting a summer tournament at HHS with five varsity and five JV teams attending.

The first game is 9 a.m. The most important thing is for the younger Bulldogs to learn from those close games in Hillsboro and try to make necessary adjustments so the one-point margins can fall in their favor and eventually turn into more comfortable wins. They will — that is what the Bulldogs and their fans expect them to do.

Erick is the news/sports director for KOHU/The Q radio stations in Hermiston. He is also the play-by-play voice of Hermiston High School athletics. Complain to him at eolson@eotnet.net.

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