Sophomore forward's standout season garners lots of attention at the 2A level.

WILL DENNER/MADRAS PIONEER - Irma Retano (holding ball) was named the Columbia Basin Conference Girls Basketball Player of the Year following a season in which she averaged 16 points, 11.2 rebounds and 5.5 steals, and helped the Bulldogs get within a game of the playoffs.
Coaches and teammates never doubted Irma Retano would become a force on the basketball court. It was simply a matter of when.

As it turned out, her emergence would happen sooner rather than later.

Retano, the Culver girls forward, was named the Columbia Basin Conference Girls Basketball Player of the Year thanks to her sophomore campaign in which she led the Bulldogs in scoring, rebounding, steals and tied for first in assists. Sophomore point guard Mia Gamboa joined Retano on the league first team and senior post Jessica Johnson was named second-team all league.

As a freshman, Retano was hesitant to shoot at first, but during the team's nonconference stretch in a game against Dufur, her offense started to click, Culver coach Scott Fritz said. She also led the team in rebounds, and became a starter only a few games into the season.

Still, the team was led by its senior duo of Hannah Lewis and Alysha Fritz, and younger players, including Retano, deferred to them in the game's biggest moments. But after that group of seniors graduated, the younger players were called on to lead the team.

As Bulldogs coach Scott Fritz noted, many players who play varsity basketball as freshmen make huge strides when they come back as sophomores, and Retano was no exception.

"You could really see it this year; she just kind of took over," Fritz said. "She was going to make things happen on the court and she did it."

Retano's unorthodox blend of athleticism and grit made opposing teams hard pressed to gameplan for and stop her. Per game averages of 16 points, 11.2 rebounds and 5.5 steals are proof that her impact for the Bulldogs on the offensive and defensive side of the ball are unmatched.

Those impacts can sometimes be difficult to quantify for a high school player, but one particular stat, efficiency, shows how important Retano is to the Bulldogs. The stat is calculated by adding the major statistical categories (points, rebounds, assists, steals, etc.) and subtracting missed shots, missed free throws and turnovers. While most Culver players' efficiency hovered in the range of 0 to 8, Retano's efficiency was rated at 18.8 for the season.

WILL DENNER/MADRAS PIONEER - Mia Gamboa's sophomore season as Culver's primary ballhandler earned her a spot on the CBC first team.
Gamboa also took a major step from her freshman to sophomore season, as she was tasked with being the team's primary ballhandler. Culver's offense is built around passing and cutting less than set plays, which requires the point guard to read and react to the defense often.

Gamboa answered the call, and put together a season of 10.2 points, 4.2 steals and 1.2 assists per game.

"I was really proud of how far she came, not just in her play, but her leadership," Fritz said. "She really ran the show and was basically in charge out there."

With two seasons remaining for each of them, Retano and Gamboa still have plenty of room to grow. The difference going forward, however, is that they are no longer unknown to opponents. Culver's coaches will have more work to do next season to get them open, though it's a challenge they welcome.

"The hard part for Irma is, they know her now, and same with Mia," Culver coach Rene Houle said. "It's nice coming underneath the radar, per say."

In her last high school basketball season, Johnson was a presence in the post, with season averages of 8.2 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.

WILL DENNER/MADRAS PIONEER - Senior Jessica Johnson (25) made steady improvements throughout her high school career to earn a CBC second-team nod.
Johnson, along with Retano, primarily played wing positions before this season, but smoothly adjusted to playing closer to the basket. She also led the team's full-court press off of made baskets by defending the inbounds pass.

"She's really worked her butt off to get to a point where she's a second-team all conference player," Fritz said.

In addition to those three all-league players, Culver's two head coaches, Fritz and Houle, shared CBC coach of the year honors.

The plan at the beginning of the season was for Houle to assume sole head-coaching duties, while Fritz would coach the JV team and handle administrative work for the team.

But after Houle was in a car accident and missed several games, Fritz jumped back into the head coach's seat. Culver's players were forced to switch between each coach's style on several occasions, but did so smoothly.

Culver finished with a 13-8 record, and came within one game of making the playoffs.

"That's a testament to the girls and how they play," Fritz said of the coaching award. "They just play; they don't worry about mistakes or who was in the coaching box that particular game."

As two of their biggest playmakers return next season with more experience, the Bulldogs are eyeing a deep run at the playoffs.

Contact Will Denner at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Follow him on Twitter @WillCDenner

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