By Page Picker and Paola De La Cerda

The Umatilla High School girls basketball team is getting ready to go into their 2016-2017 season. Coming off of a fourth place finish at last year’s OSAA 3A state tournament the Vikings start off this season with new teammates and hopes of a great year playing basketball.

“I think that we have good communication on the court and we need stick together,” said senior Ms. Anna Maldonado. ”[Coach] Bow wants you to get better”.

“Every season is different, every season is a challenge and the biggest thing is with different kids comes different results,” said Head Coach Scott Bow.

Mr. Bow’s Vikings enter the year the defending Eastern Oregon League Champions (2015-16: 23-6, 8-1). The EOL is going to see its own changes this season as the Vikings look to defend their title. The coach thinks that is for the better.

“I am excited for Irrigon to be in our league this year for basketball,” Mr Bow said. The Irrigon Knights move from the 2A Columbia Basin Conference into the 3A EOL this year with growth in their school population. They are led by a four-year starter at point guard, Jada Burns.

The Watson effect

The Vikings have their own do-everything four-year star. The point-shooting-guard-forward-center Aleesha Watson has one more season to lace her sneakers up for the Vikings before, she hopes, moving to a college program.

”I think it will be fun I think if we all come together now it will be a successful team,” Ms. Watson said. “I definitely want to get more steals this season, I want to be the first-team all-state this season. I want to make the other players on my team around me on the court better players ‘cause that what a good player does”.

The Vikings went cold trying to shoot the ball in their quarterfinal loss to Dayton last season, but bounced back with wins over Portland Christian and Portland Adventist Academy to finish with the fourth place trophy.

“I learned in state that there are a lot of good player in Oregon you could put yourself on this pedestal but you are really not that high,” Ms. Watson said. Still she is garnering some attention from college programs and at this point a hard working senior season could make a college scholarship possible.”

Ms. Maldonado says that Ms. Watson is the teammate that helps her the most on the court.  

So why number 40 for Watson?

“One time 7th grade in middle school first year playing basketball I cracked my rib and the next day I didn’t go to practice ‘cause I went to the doctor but after that I came back and they said we have a jersey for you it was number 40,” Ms. Watson said. “That happened to be my older sister’s jersey so I took it and said i’m going to make this my number and be better than her, so I stuck with it.”

The man in charge

This will be Mr. Bow’s ninth season as the head coach at UHS. He has accumulated a 114-72 record in the first eight seasons with a 30-36 record in the EOL. Mr. Bow’s influence is more than just X’s and O’s

“He, [Bow] does everything for me, literally, he one of the best coaches i’ve had for sports he pushes me to be better person on and of the court,” Ms. Lauryn Journot, a sophomore member of the Viking program said. “This year will kinda be hard ‘cause I have eaten a lot of junk food so i’m going to be out of shape but we will have good practices.”

Ms. Watson says that Coach Bow’s influence on her has been dramatic both on and off the court. Ms. Watson says he has helped her ”as a coach and so much as a person, so much more.”

The Youth Influence

Sophomore Lauryn Journot is always happy about joining the sport and looking forward to the season.

“I think this year basketball season will be good because if everyone work as a team and as a family we can accomplish more together,” Ms. Journot said. “I don’t think it will be much different [than last year], I mean we had some really good seniors that left last year that worked together and played hard so I don’t think it will be too different, maybe a little bit.”

Yamilex Ortiz, a UHS sophomore and JV basketball player is looking forward to tipping off the season.

“I think is going to be fun but there are lots of thing we going to have to work on,” Ortiz said. “Bow pumps up my self esteem, as Bow always say’s it’s Yami-time. I think practice is going to be hard same as last year.”

The influence of the young blood into the team to replace players that finished their basketball careers has made it a little tough for the head coach to know exactly where to set the bar for this year’s squad.

“Without knowing what type of team you have it’s hard to know what kind of goals you want to set. Fourth place is an outcome that just tells me where we finished [last season], it doesn’t really tell you where you are we could have been,” Mr. Bow said. ”[The] goal is that everyone is enjoying, having fun and loving basketball…

“My goal as a coach is to have the number of girls that are alway wanting to run through a wall for me, which mean they want to compete, play hard and work hard.”

The Vikings will start their season on Dec. 2 in Salem at the Western Mennonite Tournament against Colton at 3 p.m. The first home game will be at 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 8 against the McLoughlin Pioneers on the first day of the Columbia Basin Clash hosted at UHS.