It’s always a crapshoot to pick the top teams in the league based on handful of preseason games, but it seems to be pretty clear to most that Chiawana, Richland, Kamiakin and Walla Walla are among the teams to watch this season in the Mid-Columbia Conference.
“I think it is going to be an interesting year,” Kamiakin coach Lane Schumacher said. “My thoughts are Chiawana and Richland should be the two teams to beat. Then again, Walla Walla beat Richland and that makes it more interesting. That was a big win for them.”
Walla Walla finished fourth at the 4A state tournament last year but lost a core group of players to graduation. The Braves lost in the regional round last season for the second year in a row.
The Bombers are 5-1 to start the season, but coach Cindy McCoy sees room for improvement.
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“We aren’t near where we need to be,” McCoy said. “I have pretty high standards. Kamiakin is very athletic, they are young, but they play with no fear. (Oumou) Toure is a hard one — she can shoot the 3, she can drive, she is quick defensively, creates problems defensively. (Chiawana’s Braydey) Hodgins is always tough. She can go to the hoop, she can shoot. She understands the game very well. When she is on the floor, Chiawana is in a position to win every game because of her decisions at point guard.”
The Bombers benefit from Maysun Wellsandt transferring from Kamiakin. She played seven games last year for the Braves before a knee injury derailed her season. She averaged 6.3 points per game.
While people throw the Braves in the mix, Schumacher is working with a young roster. He has five freshmen — including Toure — two sophomores and three juniors on the varsity roster. There’s not a senior to be found.
“We are starting three freshmen and two juniors,” said Schumacher, whose team has nonleague losses to Hermiston and Sunnyside. “Oumou has been playing very well, Kiley Larsen has been very consistent, and Alexa Hazel has been playing very well.”
Hodgins makes the Riverhawks a threat every night. The first-team all-MCC player averaged 15.1 points per game last year and doesn’t appear to be slowing down.
One last Toure
The youngest of the Toure sisters already looks like a veteran.
At 5-foot-10, she has played inside and out on the perimeter with success. She had 21 points in a win over Eastmont, 22 in a win over Pendleton, and 20 in a victory over West Valley-Yakima.
“I’m impressed with how she has been playing,” Schumacher said. “I hope she will continue to provide the scoring for us. She has been playing with confidence for a freshman.”
In just a few games, she has caught the attention of the league coaches.
“With Toure, she is just so young you don’t know a lot about her,” Walla Walla’s Conor Fish said. “Her sisters were pretty good though.”
Sister Khadidja Toure is a junior at East Carolina, transferring after two years at Oregon State. She is averaging 9.6 points and three rebounds per game for the Pirates. Sira Toure is a sophomore at Weber State.
Players to watch
Hodgins leads this group and draws praise from opposing coaches.
“She is the standout player in the league, hands down,” Schumacher said. “She is going to be the toughest player in the league.”
“She is a tough kid,” Fish added.
Toure is a force, albeit an unknown because of her age.
Southridge’s Shyler Sullivan can knock down the 3-ball from anywhere. She is a player who cannot be left alone.
While Kamri von Oelhoffen is the floor general for the Bombers, 6-2 senior Gia Sorn, who averaged 9.1 points per game last season, will be the biggest problem for most teams.
“She has really come on this season,” McCoy said. “She is going to be quite the matchup problem for a lot of people. She is a skilled player, and we have to get her the ball. That is the key.”
As will Wa-Hi’s Kate Hogan, a 6-1 senior who will see a lot more of a workload now that Madi Doepker, Madelyn Sirmon and Mikayla and Kate Ferenz are gone.
“She is really athletic, moves well and works hard,” McCoy said. “She was a problem for us. When Gia got in foul trouble and sat in the second quarter, Hogan had 10 points.”
Rounding out the group is Kennewick’s Jayln Norwood, a 5-10 senior who averaged 17 points per games last season, scoring in doubles in figures in all but one game.
“She can take over a game on the post and she is going to cause people problems,” Schumacher said.
“She is a handful,” McCoy added. “She is a strong girl. She can hit the outside shot and post up inside.”
New Kids on the block
Fish takes over for Chris Ferenz at Walla Walla, but he is no stranger to the Blue Devils program.
“I’ve been with the program for 10 years, back when Jack Mehn was the head coach,” Fish said. “I have been around. We have a lot of turnover, but also some kids who got some varsity experience last year. We are young, but not that inexperienced. If we can defend and hit some shots, we can contend.
“We have height, and we have some really quick little guards who get in the passing lanes and make it hard to get the ball inside. Kate Hogan has done well for us. Whitney Enriquez and the Hoe twins (Faith and Lauren) got varsity time last year. If we can defend and take care of the ball and score, we will surprise some people.”
At Kennewick, Ashley Williams replaces Oliver Browning. She was an assistant at Columbia Basin College last year.
“I think the players adjusting,” said Williams, who played college ball at Air Force. “It’s a hard transition, especially since the senior have been around so long. But I feel they are buying in and making improvements every game.”
Williams got a look at some of the top players in the MCC last year when she helped coach the Media Classic.
“I got to see some of those girls first-hand. I know what we are up against,” Williams said.
Save the date
Richland is at Chiawana on Tuesday in an early-season collision of top contenders. Jan. 5: Chiawana at Walla Walla. Jan. 8: Kamiakin at Kennewick. Jan. 9: Richland at Kamiakin. Jan. 22: Richland at Walla Walla and Kamiakin at Southridge. Jan. 29: Richland at Southridge. Jan. 30: Kamiakin at Richland.