BY JEFF MORROW
High school basketball fans should be excited about the season beginning this week with contests that count.
Earl Streufert’s Richland boys squad has four players that could vie for all-conference honors in Josh Woodard, Luke Westerfield, Jack Forbes and Landon Northrop.
Meanwhile, Chiawana’s girls, with new head coach Gary Jonas, look to be a serious contender for the state 4A title. Malia Ruud and Kaia Foster are just juniors, while Sunnyside transfer Baylee Maldonado should all lead the way. And what’s more scary about this team: there are no seniors on the roster. So they could be good for a long time.
BOYS PLAYERS TO WATCH
• Peter Dress, senior, Kamiakin. He’s already committed to Embry-Riddle in Arizona, and he can shoot from deep. Dress also can shoot from around the key, and he’s a solid rebounder. If the Braves can put together a solid nucleus around him, Kamiakin can go deep.
• Dane Gardea, senior, Walla Walla. The Blue Devils have some talent back this season, and Gardea leads the way. The guard is fast and can jump. He runs in the relays for the Blue Devils during track and field season, and has cleared 6-4 in the high jump.
• Grant Olsen, senior, Hermiston. Last season, as a junior, he averaged an MCC-best of 23.2 points a game. The 6-5 guard has had offers from Pacific University in Oregon, as well as George Fox University. New head coach Brian Edwards will find a way to build the offense around this standout.
• Jesse Tijerina, senior, Southridge. As this 5-10 guard goes, so do the Suns. Tijerina led the team in scoring last season with an 18.8 point average. He’s a slick scorer who can make his way to the basket. But if a defender sags back, he’ll hammer the three.
• Seniors Josh Woodard and Luke Westerfield, Richland. The Bombers should be loaded, and these guys are two of their best. Woodard is the returning MCC boys basketball Player of the Year — just coming off of being named the MCC football Offensive Player of the Year — and averaged 19.2 points last season. Westerfield is 6-10 and will man the paint on both offense and defense. He’s got a great shot from 15 feet in and can block a lot of shots. While the Bombers can run and gun — and they will — they can also get into a great halfcourt offense with Westerfield down low. Oh yeah, both Woodard and Westerfield were members last season of the All-MCC defensive team.
GIRLS PLAYER TO WATCH
• Juniors Kaia Foster and Malia Ruud, and sophomore Baylee Maldonado, Chiawana. Foster is a great inside-outside player for the Riverhawks, and she’s being recruited by a large number of schools. She’s been able to shoot the three since her freshman season. Now she can rebound and pass quite well too. Ruud has been a dominant inside post player for Chiawana since she was a freshman. She’s had international basketball experience the past two years playing for Samoa, and her 18.9 points a game was No. 2 last season in the MCC. Great rebounder and passer too. Now, let’s throw in Maldonado, who transferred in from Sunnyside this summer. As a freshman last season, she was named to the first team of the All-Columbia Basin Big Nine girls basketball squad.
• Haylee Johnson, senior, Kennewick. She was a first-team All-MCC selection last season, averaging 15.5 points, and she’s already committed to playing basketball and running track next fall for Eastern Oregon University. She and junior Dylyn Dress will be the leaders on a very experienced Lions team this season.
• Lynnea Moran, senior, Hanford. Believe this is year seven of a Moran sister on the Falcons roster. Older sister Iliana plays at Rocky Mountain College in Montana. Lynnea is a slick shooter who can also find her way to the basket on the drive. She averaged 15.4 points a game last season.
• Izzy Simmons, junior Hermiston. Last season as a sophomore, Simmons led the MCC in scoring at 19.1 points a game. Great shooter who can drive to the basket. Along with fellow junior Ellie Heidemann, Simmons should help lead the Bulldogs to a successful season.
• Nicole Wertenberger, senior, Kamiakin. The Braves lost a lot of talent to graduation last season. But Wertenberger — along with senior Camia Howard and junior Aubrey Herrin — brings some talent back for head coach Lane Schumacher. While Howard and Herrin battle on the inside, Wertenberger will be a key from the outside.