While the Walla Walla girls basketball team is off to a solid start, suffering just one league loss so far, coach Jill Meliah is waiting for more improvement.
The Blue Devils figured to be near the top of the Mid-Columbia Conference standings this season, but injuries and players learning new roles have stunted them a bit in the early going.
“We’ve gotten off to a slow start,” Meliah said. “We’re not to the point where our talent level is. We are figuring out how to jel and progressively getting better.”
The Blue Devils are 7-3 overall and 3-1 in league. They travel to Richland to face Hanford High in an early season showdown against the Falcons, who are undefeated in league. Walla Walla follows that up with a trip to Richland High on Saturday.
“We had six girls returning, which is an advantage, but most are playing different roles,” Meliah said. “They are just figuring out how to play as a team, figuring out some bench play and rotations and different expectations.”
One of the biggest changes for Walla Walla has been finding a new post player.
Torrin Crawford, who stood a daunting 6-foot-1, graduated and went to the University of Idaho for volleyball last season. Madi Doepker has filled her role this season, and has done well, but also missed a lot of time because of injury.
“It didn’t matter what kind of games (Torri) had, teams were going to prepare for her,” Meliah said. “It has made a difference this year. We are still trying to find that inside presence that she had.”
Doepker is back and healthy, and along with sisters Mikayla and Kate Ferenz, and Jaiden Hodnefield and Kiana Molitor, the Blue Devils have plenty of talent to make a run at the top of the conference.
HANFORD: Is off to a tremendous start, in large part because of star Colette Gall.
The post is leading the league in scoring, averaging 23.1 per game.
“She is a great player,” Hanford coach Evan Woodward said. “We feel real fortunate to have her with us. She has raised her game; worked at it. Her play raises everyone else’s game and that is starting to show this year.”
It’s not all Gall, though, as fellow seniors Sydney Shintaffer and Ashley Stewart have also been four-year varsity players.
Hanford also has three other seniors — Makenna Hall, Miranda Foraker and Shelby Winsor — who have been on varsity for three years.
It all adds up to a veteran team that knows each other well.
“There is a lot of chemistry there with the girls,” Woodward said. “It is a good blending of the veterans with some young talent, just piecing together the Falcon process.
“We are really going through what we need to be doing and not focusing on anyone else at all.”
Among the youthful players contributing so far are Hannah Thompson, Holly Harris and Maddy Bingham. Bingham has missed time because of injury, but is healthy now.
COLUMBIA (BURBANK): New coach Jay Aune didn’t want to say his Coyotes are the team to beat in the SCAC East, but by knocking off Connell on Dec. 21 certainly gives the appearance that they are.
The Coyotes feature four seniors in Julie Mosqueda, Rachel Roberts, Vivi Magallon and Nataly Aguilar.
“We have a couple of seniors that have played a lot of basketball for us over the years,” Aune said. “That has helped with the leadership and our season is going to depend on how well those kids continue to improve.
“They will basically dictate where we end up.”
Aune, who is also the athletic director at Columbia, took over the program last summer. While he has never coached girls basketball before, nine years ago he coached the Coyotes’ boys team for three years and the Sprague-Harrington boys team for 11 years.
“To have the opportunity to be involved on a daily basis, I’ve enjoyed that,” he said. “The girls game has progressed so much, there is not a lot of difference in how you coach girls and how you coach boys.”
It doesn’t hurt that he inherited a stacked team, either.
“Not sure we are necessarily the team to beat or not,” he said. “You look at the last several years, Connell has always been the top team on our side. To beat them at home, that was a good win for us.”
The Coyotes have a bye tonight before playing at Royal on Saturday. They are 2-0 in league and tied with River View for the top spot.