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Bulldogs go 0-for-3 at Stayton tournament as team seeks to improve offensive stability

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Woodburn senior Willow Neshem 22 points, including 6-of-8 shooting from 3-point range, in the Bulldogs 78-61 loss to Valley Catholic in the opening round of the SCTC Holiday Classic on Thursday.As physical as basketball can be, much of the battle between two teams on a night-to-night basis takes place between the ears.

As the Woodburn girls basketball team continues to build its program, head coach Taylor Belmont is focusing on seeing how much the team can grow this season beyond just the Bulldogs' abilities on the court.

"Right now, we're just working on the mental aspect, not playing to the level of the other team," Belmont said. "We are learning a lot as a team, and a lot of the pieces are starting to fall into place."

Woodburn is coming off an 0-3 trip to Stayton over the weekend for the annual SCTC Holiday Classic. And while that matches the Bulldogs' record in its last two visits to Stayton's seasonal tournament, the team has continued to show this season that it can play up — or down — to the opposition on the court.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Woodburn junior post Tatyana Kalugin leads the team with 3.8 steals per game, as the Bulldogs have averaged more than 14 takeaways this season.In the season before Belmont took over, the Bulldogs had just two losses that were decided by single-digit margins. In 2018, Woodburn pushed that up to three single-digit losses.

This year, four of the team's six losses have come by five points or less, including a pair of games over the weekend at Stayton. After opening the tournament with a 78-61 loss to Valley Catholic, the Bulldogs followed with a 40-38 loss to Seaside on Friday and a 44-41 defeat to Warrenton on Saturday.

The results were similar to Woodburn's 45-43 loss to 5A South Albany on Dec. 10 and 56-51 loss to 3A power Salem Academy on Dec. 20. Each loss showed that Woodburn was capable of playing to the level of their opponent on the court.

"What I've seen is against good teams, we play amazing," Belmont said. "We've played so many good teams and really made them work hard, and kind of gave them the scare. Played up to their level."

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Taiya Kent is second on the team with 3.4 steals per game and leads the Bulldogs in rebounding this season.The defense has kept Woodburn in each of these games. The Bulldogs are averaging more than 14 steals per game this season and have hit double-digit takeaways in all but one contest. Leading the charge is junior Tatyana Kalugin, with a perhaps unexpected 3.8 steals per game from the post position.

"(Tatyana is) our only player with size, and she just does her job very well," Belmont said. "She's the middle of our trapping defense and she talks to everyone. She's great on her rotations, and she just covers the paint."

Senior Taiya Kent is just behind at 3.4 swipes per game, followed by sophomore Aria Kent at 3.3. Together, the Bulldogs are giving themselves plenty of opportunities to stop opponents and set up their own offense. It's only a matter of time until the team puts the pieces together to take the next step forward.

"It's the growing pains of highs and lows when a team hasn't won a lot historically," Belmont said. "You don't know what it feels like to win, so we're learning how to have a winning mentality and how to take care of business every night."

Woodburn was scheduled to host Gladstone on Tuesday, followed by the team's league opener at Sweet Home on Friday.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Sophomore guard Mya Salinas keeps the Bulldogs pressure up coming off the bench along with backcourt teammate Briana Cruz.

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