Girls basketball: Woodburn Bulldogs are building a foundation, one minute at a time
By halftime of last week's game between the Woodburn Bulldogs and the Blanchet Catholic Cavaliers in the first round of the Stayton Holiday Tournament, the game was already decided.
Down by nearly 30 points heading into the third quarter, the Bulldogs (2-8) had little expectation of pulling off a miracle upset over the unbeaten No. 3 Cavaliers (8-0).
Indeed, after being held to just three points in the third quarter by an opportunistic Cavs defense that was eager to disrupt Woodburn's offense, jump passing lanes and bully players inside, the Bulldogs could have thrown in the towel for the final eight minutes and saved their energy for the next game.
Instead, the team rallied together on the sideline between quarters with head coach Taylor Belmont, came out in the fourth and just flat out executed.
"I thought today was a big step for us in playing four quarters and not giving up, even though the score was getting pretty high," Belmont said.
Woodburn came out and scored 12 points in the final quarter, ultimately losing to the Cavaliers 71-32.
It was the team's biggest loss of the season, but it was hard to tell based on the effort on the court.
All six baskets in the period came from a different player. Woodburn freshman Aria Kent, who scored eight of her team-high 10 points in the opening quarter of the game, helped set up scoring opportunities for teammates like Tatiana Garcia, Eliana Arechiga, Taylor Mann and Tatyana Kalugin.
The colloquialism used in sports for the final minutes of blow out is 'garbage time' — a term meant to signify the insignificance of the stats accumulated in an already-decided contest.
But the Bulldogs never treated those last eight minutes as refuse.
The points may have come against Blanchet's bench players, who were getting an opportunity to earn some minutes in a guaranteed win, but for Woodburn, every minute of live action is one of value.
"I was proud of the girls for not giving up and not getting discouraged," Belmont said. "I think one of the biggest obstacles we'll face as a program is changing our mindset, learning how to be confident and learning how to win."
Woodburn has just 23 games scheduled this season — more if the team can squeeze in a play-in contest.
At eight minutes per quarter, that's only 736 minutes in a season with which the Bulldogs can learn what it takes to win a basketball game.
No minute is a wasted minute in the Woodburn girls basketball program. There is no garbage time, only opportunities to gain experience against live opponents in a competitive environment.
It's no secret that Woodburn's girls basketball program has struggled in recent years. The team is coming off back-to-back one-win seasons, and aside from a handful of exceptions, most of the losses accumulated in that time were extremely one-sided.
Woodburn rarely scored above 30 points and struggled to get to 20 against league opponents. Meanwhile, the opposition would routinely drop 60, 70 or 80 points a night.
Losing became an expectation, which soon became a habit. Belmont knows it takes a lot of effort to break a habit, and it begins with turning those garbage time minutes into eight minutes of full throttle effort against whatever reserves are thrown against them.
"I thought as far as changing our culture and building that mental toughness, it was a step forward for Woodburn tonight," Belmont said.
The Bulldogs' first month of the season has been up and down. The team opened the season with a 56-51 loss against the Tillamook Cheesemakers, but followed with a 30-point defeat at home against Thurston.
Woodburn followed with its first victory of the season — 52-36 over Parkrose — part of a stretch of competitive games in which the team won two of three. But the team suffered back-to-back big losses to Valley Catholic and Molalla at the North Marion tournament the weak prior.
"We've been a bit of a rollercoaster," Belmont said. "We'll take a giant step forward one game and then a few steps back the next game, but I think that's all just part of growth and part of learning."
The consistency in the outcome may not be there yet, but the effort is evident. Every minute of playing time is used. There are no garbage minutes. The last eight minutes of a game are played just as hard as the first eight minutes, an attitude that Belmont is trying to instill in her first season at the helm of the program.
"What I will say is we're competing every game, and that's new for our program," Belmont said. "It takes high character to keep working that hard and keep competing, even when you're losing."
The Woodburn culture change comes in a troika composed of Belmont, the veterans and the incoming freshmen and sophomores.
Seniors Garcia, Mann, Jocelynn Santillan, Michelle Quezada and Lorena Oidor have been a part of the high school basketball program for much of the past four years.
Only Garcia has been on the varsity team as a freshman, when the team was 6-18. Santillan joined the varsity squad her sophomore year, while Quezada and Mann were added as juniors last year.
The quintet will not be around to participate in the Bulldogs' future success, but can lead by example to the incoming group of players who are eager to take the program to new heights.
Their leadership mantle will be passed to next year's seniors, which include players like Lina Cabrera, Kiana Christiansen and Jasmine Mendez. That baton will then be passed to Arechiga, Kalugin, Kent and the next class of players who rise to take the place of the outgoing seniors.
Those incoming players have no history with Woodburn girls basketball. They have no expectation of what the Bulldogs can or cannot do, and it's up to the current players to pass down their knowledge, build the foundation and let the next class of players bring Woodburn out of the bottom of the conference standings, into the playoffs and beyond.
"This group is really doing something special; they're the pioneers," Belmont said. "They're the forerunners. They're the ones that are having to suck it up and start to make the strides to change, and I think the fruit is going to be for years to come based off the mental toughness and the heart that this group is doing right now."
The Woodburn Bulldogs were continued their tournament at Stayton over the weekend, falling 60-42 to Seaside on Friday and 53-46 to North Salem on Saturday.
Woodburn returns to action this week with its league opener against the Sweet Home Huskies (1-10) on Friday.