I’m probably just full of hot air, but I like to pretend that I’m an expert when it comes to volleyball.

My credentials: I had to go to practices and matches as an elementary student when my mom coached in California. My real credentials: I covered the Oregon Ducks. 

I spent one season as the public address announcer and one season as the play-by-play broadcaster for the team. That means that I saw the absolute best college volleyball conference for three seasons.

Now that I’ve laid the foundation, it’s time to make some bold predictions (or blow some hot air, depending on what you think about me) about the Hermiston Bulldogs volleyball team, who is opening their season today at Hermiston High School.

Since everybody plays in the postseason — sort of — under the new playoff structure, the team will be breaking a playoff drought that extends back to 2002, when they lost to eventual state champion Gresham in the round of 16. I think this team can do more than just make the playoffs and maybe win a match. I think the Bulldogs have what it takes to win the Columbia River Conference — and make it to the final eight at Liberty High School in mid-November.

The CRC title prediction isn’t really that bold. A year ago, Hermiston was two matches out of the IMC’s top four and a playoff spot. They beat everybody they should have and took a set each off of state runner-up Summit, along with playoff teams Mountain View and Pendleton. All three of those teams were packed with more experience than Hermiston.

Hood River Valley finished seventh out of nine teams in the Class 6A Mount Hood Conference a year ago, only winning four matches. The Dalles-Wahtonka was winless in the IMC and only won two matches all season. Even with improvement by those two programs, I see Hermiston as a much better team. That leaves Pendleton. The Buckaroos were loaded with talented seniors a year ago. In 2010, they have a new coach and lots of big sneakers to fill — but there is no reason to think they won’t continue to have a successful program. The difference might just be experience in the purple and gold.

With a nucleus of juniors that have been contributing to the varsity for two years already, these really good athletes have developed the volleyball savvy that wasn’t as strong as the IMC’s playoff teams a year ago. In their third year, the juniors don’t look as wide-eyed as when they were freshman or sophomores. Along with Darci Alleman, the team’s lone senior, the team members in the 2012 class are now leaders, not just key contributors to the program. Hermiston will now be the most experienced team most of the time when they step on the court.

In the IMC with four-time state champion Crook County and the powerhouse programs and Summit and Mountain View, no one else talked about winning a league title. The goal was to find a way into the top-four and make the playoffs. In the CRC, the Bulldogs just have to trust the potentially full-of-hot-air radio guy and develop the confidence they need to become the team to beat for the No. 1 seed. 

At least, I like to think I know what I’m talking about.

Erick would love to hear from you. Write him at eolson@eotnet.net.

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