The Umatilla Vikings girls basketball team finished third at the state tournament in 2011 but havent been back since. The Vikings are shooting for a return trip this season.
Vikings head coach Scott Bow said he wants to play in March.
I tell my teams the same thing every year: I love coaching in March, he said. When other teams seasons have finished, but you still get to practice, play and compete, that is the greatest part of coaching. As a coach, you have to understand it might not happen every year. I think we have a good chance with this team.
Bow said a successful season isnt determined by a state playoff berth, but that is a standard to which he and his team hold themselves.
Its something Ive instilled into my teams throughout my time here, he said. We have other goals and expectations, but, ultimately, the big one is getting as far as we can in the playoffs.
The Vikings are a relatively young squad, with only two seniors on the team. Even with a young roster, the Vikings bring back nearly everyone from last years team, which finished with a 6-15 record in the Eastern Oregon League. The team lost one senior and one transfer student from last years squad.
We were really young last season, Bow said. Were young again this season, but now most of the girls have at least a year of varsity experience under their belts. We will definitely be able to use those experiences to our advantage this year.
Scott said he likes to have a tough non-league schedule to prepare his squad for a traditionally competitive Eastern Oregon League.
Im a big believer in a tough preseason, he said. Most of the teams we played last year in our non-league slate ended up in the top eight of their respective classes. Only two of the teams we played during that stretch didnt make it to the final eight. It was a good test, and we learned a lot from it.
Bow said because the team was so young last season he utilized multiple starting lineups. At times, the Vikings started four freshmen. This season, Bow said nearly everyone who regularly started is returning.
The great thing about our team last year was that we had about seven girls who could all start and play well on any given night, Bow said. On average, about four out of five starters are returning, and that has me pretty excited.
Last year, the Vikings scored an average 32 points, corralled nearly 24 rebounds, dished out almost seven assists and swiped eight steals per game. Bow said most of the players who produced those statistics have returned, and he expects those numbers to increase across the board.
I think we could be 25 points per game better than we were last season, he said. Its a realistic goal with the way we competed during the summer and how weve improved throughout the entire offseason.
Bow has a reason to be optimistic. The three leading scorers for the Vikings last year are all back. Leading scorer Desiree Garza, a senior guard, averaged 7.5 points and 2.6 rebounds per game last year. Garza played for the Vikings the last time they reached the state tournament. She said her goal is to compete in the state tournament again.
I want to get back to state this year, she said. We have to work harder as a team this season. It really starts with communication. We have to learn how to talk on the floor so that everyone is on the same page. I can already tell weve gotten better.
Sophomore guard Sidney Webb returns, having averaged 5.2 points and nearly two assists a game last season. Bow said hell rely on the Garza and Webb to initiate most of the offense.
They both are going to have big years, he said. Theyll dictate where the ball gets placed and how efficient we can be. A majority of our offense is set up for our guards to make decisions with the basketball depending on what the other team is doing on defense.
Junior Kasandra Galbraith is returning, having averaged 6.6 points per game last year. Galbraith also led the Vikings in rebounding, last year, averaging eight per game. She also led the Vikings in steals with almost two a night.
With those three and a number of other returners, Bow said he expects tremendous balance on his team this year.
Its going to be hard for the other team to pick out who is our scorer, Bow said. We have multiple girls who are more than capable of leading our team in scoring on any given night. If a team takes one of our options away, well throw something else at them. That gives me a lot of flexibility as a coach.
Bow said this years team is also much more balanced in class breakdown. Last years team was made up of mostly freshmen and juniors, which led to some dysfunction at times.
Theres a comfort level that comes with having played with each other before, and we didnt have it last year, Bow said. Last year, our young girls were a little intimidated by the big junior class at the start of the season. This year, we dont have that. Everyone feels comfortable with their place on the team.
Webb agreed with Bow.
We just know each other better this year, she said. We know each others games, (and) we know strengths and weaknesses. Weve built a much better team chemistry.
Scoring has also become a priority, Bow said.
We couldnt finish last year, he said. We had more open looks last season than Ive ever had on a team. We just couldnt put the ball in the basket. I think our youth had a lot to do with that.
Bow said he has devised a strategy to eliminate those woes.
I dont call fouls in practice, he said. Theres more contact during our scrimmages in practice than there ever will be in a game. Its tougher to score at practice than it should be in a game. If our girls can score here, well be in pretty good shape once the season starts.
Bow said he is a defensive-minded coach. He said he worries at times about his team losing focus defensively with all of the extra attention being put into the offense.
He said he doesnt think that will be a problem this season.
Our girls have figured out that great defense turns into easy offensive opportunities, Bow said. Its something I hope they never forget.
The Vikings open the season against the Yakama Tribal Eagles Wednesday at home.