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Huge incoming freshman class bolsters Bulldog girls basketball program on the rise

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Incoming Woodburn junior Tatyana Kalugin is one of a number of reserve players looking to earn more playing time in the coming season.Not long after the final June classes get out, the gymnasium at Woodburn High School echoes with the pounding of feet and basketballs.

The Woodburn girls basketball team, fresh off their first foray into the 4A classification are eager to build upon last year's successes and continue to add upon all they had learned under first year head coach Taylor Belmont.

"I've been really proud of them," Belmont said. "You can tell a lot of the basic skills that we did every day last year, now they've got them down. So they're just moving on, so it feels like the baseline is higher, which is awesome."

Last season, Belmont took over a Woodburn program that was coming off of back-to-back seasons in which the team won just one game and had gone 0-14 in league play.

Many of the of the games in that span were decided after the first quarter of play and most were done by halftime. Belmont entered the program seeking to change the mindset of the Woodburn players from one in which losses were an inevitable outcome to one in which losses should fought against every minute until the final buzzer.

While the Bulldogs finished the 2018-19 season with only three more wins than the year before, the success was evident between the lines. Games that were decided by 40 or 50 points were now down to 20 to 30 points. Woodburn entered the second half of games with the results still up in the air. Practices were intense, but fruitful.

Belmont knows that the increased intensity and increased expectations will likely drive off some potential players who are not used to the level of athleticism required to succeed in varsity high school basketball, but with a pool of athletes as large as what is available at Woodburn, she knows that the team can thrive with a core group of committed girls.

"Last year we worked really hard and it was probably a lot harder than they were used to be working, and there's a group of kids that loved it, and they're here and ready for more," Belmont said.

When June 1 hit, the basketball courts were filled with a number of players eager to build on the lessons learned last year. With all but one starter graduating, that means a lot of open playing time for the athletes who spent their time learning and watching from the bench or playing reserve minutes.

"We're building a program with an identity of if you're committed, motivated and want to give 100 percent, we're going to do that as a team," Belmont said.

The results are coming through in the summer league games. In Woodburn's opening tournament of the month, the varsity team went 2-2 and the junior varsity team went 2-2. The JV2 went winless in their four games, but that's another success in itself. Last summer, there wasn't enough players to form a second junior varsity team.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Woodburn head coach Taylor Belmont enters her second year in the program, looking to develop the Bulldogs into a team that is willing to outwork opponents on every possession."Probably the most exciting thing is we have 21 eighth graders out," Belmont said. "Last year we only had three. It's a ton of girls, which is awesome."

The incoming freshman class directly correlates to the 5th/8th grade AAU program that was created two years ago. Now that many of those players have been building their skills and interest in the sport, they're entering high school looking to bring that same enthusiasm to Belmont's program.

"Definitely the youth program is playing a huge role, and they're starting to come through," Belmont said. "That's really incredible."

It will be a few years before most of them will be able to see any time on the varsity team. In the meantime, the Bulldogs are working with a relatively small group of girls, size-wise.

With only two post players out this summer, Woodburn is relying on its platoon of guards and wings to outrun and outgun opponents.

"They're (guards and wings), pretty good shooters, so our team dynamic just completely shifted," Belmont said. "We lost some post players, and now we have wing players, so we're just kind of switching it up."

Woodburn's lone returning starter, sophomore guard Aria Kent, who is fresh off a season in which she earned Second Team All-Conference honors, leads a bevy of shooters and slashers. The Bulldogs will seek to define their success next season, seeking to make up for their lack of size with a flurry of outside shooting.

"We've been going lots of four-guard stuff, doing lots of new offenses and defenses, just experimenting, trying to find stuff that works for our personnel," Belmont said.

Woodburn is expecting that will result in more wins and a run at a state playoff berth, but regardless of the numbers the team puts up in the standings next year, the team's sweat equity put in on the practice floor and in empty summer league gymnasiums will be evident in every contest come this December.

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