The White Buffalos were picked No. 7 in the OSAAToday preseason poll of 4A coaches after winning the TVC last spring.

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - The Madras girls basketball team was picked No. 7 in the preseason poll of 4A coaches. From left: junior Natalie Lockey, sophomore Maija Poland, sophomore Rylan Davis, senior Cha Cha Ramirez, sophomore Sasha Esquiro.Following last season's Tri-Valley title run, the Madras girls basketball team is ready for a repeat.

The Buffs lost four all-league selections from last year to graduation, including Jayden Davis, the Tri-Valley Player of the Year. Davis and the others will be sorely missed, but the cupboard is not bare for head coach Jerin Say.

"I feel really good about what we're bringing to the table," said Say, who was chosen as Tri-Valley Coach of the Year after leading the Buffs to the league title. "All the way from our No. 1 player to our No. 12 player on the varsity level, I feel good. JV players as well. I feel good about our whole program."

Madras, which was voted No. 7 in the OSAAToday preseason poll of 4A coaches, is coming off a 12-3 season that ended with a loss to La Grande in the 4A Showcase Final 8 event. The Buffs went 9-1 in Tri-Valley play to earn their first league title since 2017-18. It was also the team's first TVC crown under Say, who is entering his fourth year as head coach at MHS.

Leading the way for the Buffs in 2021-22 will be two players who received All-TVC honorable mentions last year: senior Cha Cha Ramirez and sophomore Sasha Esquiro.

"Cha Cha, this is her third season with me, so she's got the experience," said Say of Ramirez. "She is just a utility player — and I don't mean that in a negative way. She just will do anything I ask her to: play defense against the biggest person on the court, and play point guard, wing, wherever on the court on offense. She's bringing experience, leadership, and that work ethic also."

To hear Ramirez tell it, she is a defense-first player — one who looks at offensive opportunities as a reward for hard work on the other end.

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Madras senior Cha Cha Ramirez says that she approaches the game with a defense-first mentality. 'That's always what my brother taught me,' she said. 'Defense — and then if I get the ball, then I can play offense.'"I was always taught that you have to play hard on defense before you can play offense," said Ramirez, who was also a defensive leader on the Madras girls soccer team. "That's what my brother taught me. He taught me defense — then if I get the ball, then I can play offense."

As for Esquiro, Say has big expectations for the sophomore, noting her athleticism as a major reason that she could have a breakout year.

"Sasha, she's got a lot of natural abilities, a lot of natural talent," Say noted of Esquiro. "For her this year, it's like, 'You played behind those seniors and did your thing as a freshman. Now the spotlight's on you. Are we elevating our game, or are we just going to stay that same player?' She's got goals, so I expect her to elevate and take that challenge on."

Say also noted the team will likely have some hiccups as it adjusts to its new personnel.

"There's going to be a lot of growing pains with our sophomores this year," said Say, "which is fine. It's expected."

In addition to Esquiro, fellow sophomores looking to get more playing time on varsity include Rylan Davis, Talise Wapsheli and Maija Poland. During practice on Monday, those three played alongside Esquiro and Ramirez during full-court scrimmages. Still, Say is hesitant to commit to any permanent starting five.

"My starting lineup is going to change game to game," said the fourth-year coach. "There might be some girls that have positions solidified, but there might be girls that will be learning the system a little bit. We'll give them opportunities as more games come."

In particular, Say mentioned that he would be cautious in the early going in terms of how he deploys his younger players, especially in the post.

"We'll be short at times," Say conceded, "but hopefully with Maija (Poland) and Matty Buck, we'll have a little bit of size down low as the season goes on. But those girls need reps in practice, they need reps in games. So we'll sprinkle them in here and there and let them build off of that."

As for obstacles in the way of Madras' repeat run at the Tri-Valley crown, Say listed Corbett and Gladstone as the top competition for the Buffs. The Gladiators could pose the biggest threat, as they were picked one spot ahead of Madras in the preseason poll at No. 6 in the 4A classification.

The season begins tonight as Madras hosts Ridgeview at 5:30 p.m. in the Buffalo Dome.

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