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First-year coach Taylor Belmont looking to raise expectations, create positive buy-in for the new 4A Bulldogs

PHIL HAWKINS - Woodburn's Jocelyn Santillan pulls up for a jumper over teammate Tatiana Garcia in the Bulldogs' blue and white scrimmage on Nov. 27 prior to the team's season opener, a 56-51 loss at Tillamook the following night.The Woodburn girls basketball program began the 2018-19 season on a wave of positivity, and the Bulldogs are eager to continue that momentum throughout the next three months.

The high school program opened the season on Nov. 27 with a celebration of girls basketball within the community, hosting youth teams from fourth grade and up at the high school for Blue & White Night. Teams scrimmaged against each other throughout the night while fans and parents were treated to dinner, culminating in the varsity players competing on the eve of the Bulldogs' season opener at Tillamook the following night.

"I think tonight was awesome, because they got to get the jitters and the nerves out in an environment where it is really supportive and the score doesn't really matter," head coach Taylor Belmont said. "So I'm excited. I feel like tonight was perfect to set us up for (Tillamook) and play like we know how to play."

Woodburn went on to play a closely contested game against the Cheesemakers, falling 56-51. And though the Bulldogs were unable to pull out the victory, the result was a vindication of where Belmont wants to take the team as she prepares to lead the team in her first year as head coach.

"They're doing awesome," Belmont said. "I feel like they're completely buying into the new program."

The Woodburn Bulldogs have never had an easy go of things since becoming a 5A program in 2006. In their 12 years playing in the Mid-Willamette Conference, Woodburn finished at the bottom of the league standings 10 times.

The team had some success from 2010-15, averaging seven wins over the five-year stretch, but the Bulldogs were never able to convert their gains against non-league opponents to their conference schedule.

In the past two seasons, the Bulldogs bottomed out with a pair of one-win seasons in which the program went 0-28 against league opponents.

But with the school's move out of the Mid-Willamette to the 4A Oregon West Conference, and with the new leadership of Belmont at the helm, the Woodburn girls are looking to turn the program around and start a new era.

A former standout at Oregon City High School and an NAIA All-American for Vanguard University, Belmont was Woodburn's freshman coach last year and took the reins from former head coach Rudy Loza over the summer. Her goal this season is to instill a positive atmosphere within the program while expecting the team to play at their highest level each night.

PHIL HAWKINS - Woodburn head coach Taylor Belmont was part of the  Oregon City team that won the 2010 6A State Championship and went on to become an NAIA All-American at Vanguard University.
"I don't think I'm going to define the success of our season based on wins and losses. I think my goal is to get a group of girls playing together like a team and building confidence," Belmont said. "They're giving 100 percent every day, and I think they're having a lot of fun being held to high expectations, because I think it feels good when they're meeting those expectations."

This year's team features a variety of skill levels up and down the roster. Returning veterans like seniors Jocelyn Santillan, Tatiana Garcia, Jordan Mann, Michelle Quezada and Lorena Oidor have the experience to lead and set the tone for incoming players. Meanwhile, younger athletes such as sophomores Eliana Arechiga and Tatyana Kalugin, along with freshmen Briana Cruz and Aria Kent enter the program with a higher floor of ability thanks in part to the Woodburn girls AAU program that was started in 2016.

"Because the AAU program started two years ago, we're just starting to see the benefits of having kids that have been playing," Belmont said. "They just bring a high IQ for the game, and it's really good for our team."

Belmont wants to utilize that increased knowledge for the game among her players to their best advantage, introducing press defenses throughout the year and letting the Bulldogs run roughshod over opponents who are unable to negotiate them.

"It's going to be pressing the whole game, but that takes a lot of practice for the girls to be able to do that, so we're working on it," Belmont said. "That's something that's going to be more and more the identity of our team as the season progresses."

Belmont sees a lot of potential within Woodburn that she is eager to tap into and unleash on the court. Between the community and the players, Woodburn has the resources to build a fun and competitive basketball scene, and Belmont is eager to play a role in getting the Bulldogs back in control of their own destiny.

"I feel like in general, we lack a lot of confidence, and that happens from losing so many games," Belmont said. "So this year is the turning point where we start to build back up that confidence and show them that they are capable. Just kind of help them see their own potential."

Woodburn (0-1) was scheduled to play its home opener Tuesday against the 5A Thurston Colts (1-0) before finishing the week with a trip Saturday to 5A Parkrose (0-1) .

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