The Warrenton girls basketball team could not have been hotter last year as they finished out the regular season.
A 65-55 win over De La Salle gave the Lady Warriors a 12-4 league record, and had Warrenton entering the postseason with 19 overall victories.
But that’s where the winning stopped, as Clatskanie and De La Salle both scored league playoff wins over Warrenton, and the Warriors lost a first-round state playoff game at Coquille, 69-48.
The three losses left a bad taste for the Warriors, who can’t wait to set things right.
“Last year I felt like we didn’t have enough challenging games early, and that ended up biting us later,” said Robert Hoepfl, last year’s Lewis & Clark League Coach of the Year. “Like the Coquille game. I felt like we could have played better against them.
“We want to beat those teams come February and March, so we have to play them now, even if we take our lumps early. We can identify what our weaknesses are and what we need to improve on.”
That’s why the Warriors have scheduled a tougher nonleague schedule.
“We have a really solid team,” Hoepfl said. “We have a lot of returners, and we’re further along right now than we’ve ever been at this point.”
COASTAL RANGE LEAGUE
Clatskanie, Rainier and Warrenton will be joined by Taft and Willamina to form the new Coastal Range League, a five-team league that will feature a three-game series with each team.
The absence of the private schools won’t be too big of a loss, since Catlin Gabel, Oregon Episcopal and Portland Adventist all finished well below .500 in league play.
Riverdale is also gone, and Portland Christian has moved to the 2A level.
Meanwhile, Taft and Willamina may not be much of a threat to Clatskanie, Rainier and Warrenton. Taft was 3-19 and Willamina finished 11-13 in last year’s West Valley League.
Rainier has lost league Player of the Year Desirae Hansen and her all-league teammate, Aspen Norman, while Clatskanie’s two first-team all-leaguers (Shelby Blodgett and Olivia Sprague) return for their sophomore seasons.
The league title could come down to three meetings between Clatskanie and Warrenton, the last on Feb. 1.
“I think Clatskanie is the best team in the state,” Hoepfl said. “They have a good freshman class coming in, and I think they have the best player in the state (Blodgett). They’re definitely the best team, but we’re right below them.
“I think we can beat them,” he said, “and that’s our goal, to compete for a league championship.”
He added, “Rainer has a great coach and system. They graduated a special player, so they will be different.”
Warrenton lost just one senior (Tyla Little), “who was obviously a big part of our program,” Hoepfl said. “She ended up as our fourth all-time leading scorer. But we have four starters back, and we’re confident we can go eight deep, with 10 kids who can contribute.”
The list includes six seniors, “five who have played significantly,” said the coach. “Claire Bussert (Sr.) is probably the best point guard I’ve had. She’s started every year, she already has the school single-season record for assists and steals, and will finish first all-time in both, with a good chance to finish top 10 in scoring.”
Bussert was league Player of the Year in volleyball.
Elsewhere, “Fernanda Alvarez (senior post) had a really good year, so between those two, we have some elite players that I think have a shot to get us over the hump.”
Other starters will include Kenzie Ramsey (Jr.), “who will step in and start for Tyla,” Hoepfl said. “She broke our school record last year in threes, with eight in one game. She can really shoot, and she’s put in a ton of work in the offseason to make herself a more-rounded player.
“(Seniors) Maria Heyen and Sagi Diego both started last year. They’re both good defenders. Sagi does all the little things and has great instincts, and Maria can shoot good mid-range shots.
“Adriana Dejesus (Sr.) is probably the best on-ball defender I’ve coached. Melia Kapua (Jr.) is a good three-sport athlete, and will play wing and be our backup point guard. She’s really athletic and can shoot the ball.”
Avyree Miethe (Fr.) “is athletic and will play some role for the varsity,” he added. Others include post Annie Heyen (So.), Hallie Mossman (Sr.) and Sydney Marchello (Jr.), who was at Warrenton, played at Knappa last year, and has returned to Warrenton.
“This is the best group we’ve had at the top,” Hoepfl said. “If we can stay healthy, we can be pretty good.”
Prediction: Lady Warriors will make their first trip to the 3A state tournament in Coos Bay.
Coach: Robert Hoepfl, 4th year
2017-18: 19-8 (12-4 league)
Playoffs: Lost league playoffs to Clatskanie and De La Salle. Lost state playoff at Coquille (48-69).
All-league loss: Tyla Little
All-league returners: Fernanda Alvarez, Sr., Claire Bussert, Sr.