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Bulldogs looking to raise expectations in coach Taylor Belmont's second year

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Woodburn sophomore Mya Salinas is among the sophomore class of the varsity team that includes teammates Briana Cruz and Aria Kent.The first season for Woodburn girls basketball head coach Taylor Belmont was all about building a foundation.

Belmont inherited a team for the 2018-19 season that was coming off back-to-back one-win seasons and was in the midst of both a coaching change and a change of scenery — moving from the 5A Mid-Willamette Conference to the 4A Oregon West.

After a full season at the helm, followed by a successful summer stint, Belmont is excited to see how much the floor has risen with the Bulldogs and how high the ceiling can be for the Woodburn girls basketball program.

"I think that it's just really fun as a coach having one year of foundation set," Belmont said. "So the things that we were doing the first week of practice last year, we were able to cover all of that in a day. They got it, they knew it, and they were ready for more.

"We're just so much farther than we were last year, and it's just fun reaping the fruit of all of the hard labor from last year."

Last year's Bulldogs showed promising signs of growth during the season. Woodburn went 4-19 on the season, more wins than the past two seasons combined while breaking a two-year streak of winless games against league opponents.

More importantly, Woodburn went from a team that struggled to score above 20 points and frequently lost contests by 40 or 50, to one that was able to keep pace with all but the top teams in the Oregon West. Belmont is confident that with a second year, the Bulldogs will continue that upward trend and surprise several teams this season.

"I think that we are going to compete," she said. "I think there's going to be way less 20-point games and there's going to be a lot more three-point wins, two-point losses. I think we're right in there with the middle of the league."

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Senior Taiya Kent (left) and sophomore Aria Kent (right) will have the opportunity to play together on the varsity team for the first time this season after Taiya sat out her junior and sophomore seasons due to concussions.Leading the charge will be guards Aria and Taiya Kent.

Taiya Kent returns for her senior year after suffering a season-ending concussion in the first game of her sophomore season in 2017 that also kept her sidelined in 2018.

Before that, she had been a freshman sparkplug for the 2016-17 season, bulldozing into the lanes for buckets and rebounds while playing tenacious defense against opposing ball-handlers.

"We are very excited to have Taiya back," Belmont said. "She brings positive energy. She's all over the court, she rebounds. She brings that spirit that our team really rallies around."

In her absence, younger sister Aria Kent broke onto the scene as a freshman last year. She proved to be just as capable of a player, giving the Bulldogs a steady hand to initiate the offense, keep defenses honest on the perimeter and spread the ball to teammates. Together, the duo will provide Woodburn with a pair of two-way players that can dictate the pace of play.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Willow Neshem is part of a strong senior class that gives the Bulldogs a veteran presence going into the 2019-20 season."It's exciting watching them play off each other, and they both work their butts off, so it's going to be fun seeing what they can do," Belmont said. "I don't really know yet, so it's going to be exciting to see."

Woodburn also boasts a strong senior class, with veterans Willow Nesham, Lina Cabrera and Kiana Christiansen. Juniors Tatyana Klaugin and Alexandra Ramirez pair with Christiansen as capable post players, giving the Bulldogs plenty of options close to the basket.

"We have so many posts that have so much potential, so we're just going to see who glues this season," Belmont said. "I think that our post position is kind of up for grabs, and there's a lot of kids with some size working hard."

With sharpshooter Eliana Arechiga roaming the perimeter, along with sophomores Mya Salinas and Briana Cruz joining Aria Kent as up-and-coming players, the Bulldogs have the combination of youth, experience and excitement to put together a successful season.

"We've been practicing a lot on transition," Belmont said. "Our defense is more trapping this year, so we're really trying to get easy buckets without having to set up our offense."

"I'm just excited to see the girls reaching their potential."

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Sophomore Briana Cruz and the Bulldogs will look to play a more trapping defense this year, as they try to build more of their offense around transition buckets.

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