HRV girls basketball enters league play with cautious optimism

Eagles have won five of their last six

After a nonleague schedule with plenty of starts and stops thanks to Mother Nature’s wrath, the HRV girls basketball team will enter league competition in an unfamiliar situation:

Having a winning record.

The Eagles finished up their nonleague schedule with a 6-4 record (Saturday’s game at Ridgeview was canceled) and will enter their Jan. 20 Columbia River Conference debut versus Pendleton (7 p.m., Hood River) having won five of their last six games. The team hasn’t gone into its league debut with a winning record since the 2011-2012 season.

For a program that has had plenty of challenges and saw a coaching change in the offseason, first-year Head Coach Donnie Herneisen sees plenty of positives heading into the second half of the girls’ schedule.

“I think we have made a lot of progress across the board in a short amount of time. It’s always a challenge when a new coaching staff comes in and changes everything that has been done in the past,” he noted. “The girls are still getting to know me and my style of play/coaching, and the reverse is true as well. I think the most progress has been made in the mental game for these girls. We’re seeing confidence and belief in themselves that they didn’t necessarily have in the past. Getting some wins under your belt can do that.”

Ranking-wise, HRV is practically in a dead heat with other CRC teams. As of Friday morning, Pendleton was ranked 17th in 5A, The Dalles was 18th, HRV was 20th, and Hermiston was 22nd. HRV gives up the fewest points per game (36.5) in the league and is second in scoring (48.2 ppg., behind Pendleton’s 52.4). HRV is currently the only team in the CRC that has a winning record.

However, those rankings came at the expense of some struggling teams and some smaller schools. With the exception of Corbett, a 4A school, none of the teams HRV beat during its nonleague campaign currently have winning records. The team has lost out on a lot of practices and competitions because of the weather, and Herneisen noted that despite his excitement “that we have had some success early on,” he was “a bit disappointed that we’ve let a couple games get away from us that I thought we should’ve had,” including a five-point loss to Madras and a three-point loss to Liberty.

Though other CRC teams appear to be struggling in their nonleague games, Herneisen said those schools have played harder teams than HRV. And regardless of nonleague records, CRC teams have had HRV’s numbers for years when it comes down to league play, Hermiston in particular. In fact, the Bulldogs haven’t lost a league game since a 49-38 defeat at the hands of The Dalles on Jan. 16, 2013. On the flip side, HRV hasn’t won a CRC contest since the 2011-12 season.

Herneisen said that as “a young, inexperienced team, there is no facet of our game that we don’t need to work on” as the Eagles look to end their league win drought.

“I see the CRC shaping up much as it has in the past. The pre-season rankings are nice right now to give our girls some confidence, but we haven’t proven anything to anyone yet,” he said. “We’ll have to go out and play our best basketball in order to make progress in the CRC this year.”

HRV had a productive week last week, defeating St. Helens 53-45 on Jan. 4 and 4A Corbett 60-45 on Jan. 5. To defeat St. Helens, HRV had to come back from a 13-1 deficit early in the game and before ending the half up 22-16. The Eagles duked it out with the Lions in the third, getting outscored 18-14 before rallying in the final quarter with lockdown defense, limiting the Lions to just two field goals in the final eight minutes. Nia Lopez led HRV with 14 points, while Emily Curtis was close behind with eight.

In the game with Corbett, the Cardinals grabbed a quick lead early in the game, but HRV once again surged ahead, and had the lead at the end of every quarter. Both team’s offense went off in the fourth, with HRV pouring in 24 points and Corbett scoring 18. Curtis led HRV with 18 points while Hannah McNerney and Lauren Orr crested double digits with 11 points each.

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