A young, talented roster and a new conference will hopefully be the key to a playoff run for the Hermiston volleyball team.
The brand new, four-team Columbia River Conference may not have the same clout as the former eight-team Intermountain Conference, but will still be hotly contested.
With Hermiston, Pendleton and The Dalles-Wahtonka still together, former Class 6A school Hood River Valley joins the party, competing in Class 5A for the first time since the OSAA created the two classifications in 2006.
But with the league shuffling aside, the focus of the team remains on what they can control and how they perform as a unit.
Were working on playing more as a team, junior Maloree Moss said. Volleyball is such a mental game, and we have to focus on staying up and positive.
Head coach Darci Wellsandt said that when the team set its goals at the beginning of practice, there wasnt a feel of excitement or disdain about the change, but rather a more concentrated effort on what the team needs to do to advance out of the CRC.
We sat down and it just came down to business, she said. Even though most every team gets to go to the playoffs, we still have to prove ourselves and we dont want to give away games at home.
That notion becomes even more important with the new RPI playoff-seeding system coming into play, which losing at home puts a pretty big hit on the teams rating.
The Bulldogs missed out on the state playoffs last season, going 6-8 in the conference, two games back of rival Pendleton for the final spot in the postseason.
But this team returns a lot of vital pieces from last years squad that was in the playoff hunt until the very end.
The ultra-talented class of sophomores now juniors from the 2009 team are poised to put the Bulldogs back on the state volleyball radar.
Moss, along with juniors Crystal Schmidt and Gracie Flyg will be vital to the teams success throughout the season. With senior Darcie Alleman and junior Callahan Crossley also being depended on to make major contributions, the squad isnt short on skill or confidence.
Our goal right now is to win the league, Alleman said. If we end up taking a loss along the way, were going to learn from it.
Wellsandt is certain the versatility of her squad with be one of their biggest assets.
We have a lot of JV players coming up that played multiple positions, Wellsandt said. That way, we can mix things around and not have to stay with the same lineup all the time. We can put people in and adjust to do what we need to.
Regarding the peculiar scheduling that had to take place to fill out a respectable CRC docket, both Moss and Alleman think that it could possible be detrimental since the teams play each other so much four times each to creating a 12-game conference schedule.
You can kind of get lackadaisical when you play teams so much, Moss said. Obviously we dont want that to happen, so well need to focus.
Class 5A newcomer Hood River Valley is a bit of an enigma, and Wellsandt said the first time the two clubs meet at 7 p.m. September 14 at The Dawg House will be very important to become acquainted with the Eagles since the two schools havent met since Wellsandts first year at Hermiston.
For the time being, however, Wellsandt and the team will be focused on working toward winning the CRC crown in its inaugural season.
If you dont set out to win a league title, you should probably re-evaluate what you are doing, she said. Were looking to take care of business.