WALLA WALLA — Last year may have been just a preamble.
The Wa-Hi girls’ basketball team finished last season second in league and fell in the district title game to Chiawana — a pretty successful season by most measures.
But Blue Devils coach Jill Meliah is expecting more this year.
“I think we can contend for the (Mid-Columbia Conference) title, I really do,” Meliah said. “The girls, this is one of the things they’ve been working for their whole lives. Basketball’s been really important — I have a lot of basketball kids — so they’ve put a lot of time in in the offseason.”
The Blue Devils finished last season with a 15-8 record and graduated four seniors. Wa-Hi returns eight from that squad, all of which saw significant time last season, Meliah said, and she expects to roll eight deep this season.
With that depth and continuity from last season, Meliah hasn’t let the Blue Devils sit on their laurels. Expect Wa-Hi to add a transition-centric offense to its already effort-intensive defense.
“We’ll continue to press, but we’ve really been working on our transition (offense),” Meliah said. “We have some kids that can really get out and run and so... what I’m pushing them to do right now is to get out and run transition, see if we can make it an up-tempo game with our pressure and then with our running offensively.”
Leading the way are Mikayla Ferenz and Torri Crawford.
Ferenz, a point guard, was named to the all-Big Nine second team last season as a freshman and Meliah wasn’t shy about singing her praises.
“Mikayla Ferenz very well could be the best player in the league — she’s that good,” Meliah said. “She and her sister (Kate Ferenz, a sophomore post) have put hours upon hours into the gym. She’s just an all-around player.
“She can shoot it, she can drive the lane,” Meliah said. “She sees the floor better than anyone I’ve ever seen before. She really runs our offense because she can pass and shoot and drive and do so many things. She’s going to be special.”
Crawford, a first-teamer in her junior campaign, may not have the deep basketball knowledge Mikayla Ferenz possesses, but she is 6-foot-2.
“Even though she’s a volleyball kid, she brings a lot to the basketball court,” Meliah said of Crawford, who committed to play volleyball recently at the University of Idaho. “You can’t coach 6-2. She’s going to be a presence out there.
“But she’s also gotten a lot stronger,” she said. “We’ve really worked with her on squaring up and going up strong and she’s got a nice shot. She can hit the 15-footer and so she’s going to be a huge threat for us.
“Defensively, she blocks out and works and rebounds, and so I think she’s going to be a key part of our success.”
Expect Maddy Sirmon, Madi Doepker and Kate Ferenz all to share time at post or wing. The trio of 5-10 sophomores are fairly interchangeable, Meliah said, and should provide the Blue Devils with the ability to wear teams out with sheer depth.
“They’re forwards, they’re posts, I can play them out on the wing if I need to,” Meliah said. “They can shoot it, they can drive, but they can go down and bang, too, if I need them to. That’s nice to have that versatility, I mean, we can start everybody at 5-10 and above if we wanted to. Not everybody can say that.”
Allie Greene, a 5-8 senior, will also see time at wing.
“Allie Greene just has worked really hard to be one of the best defensive players,” Meliah said. “She can rebound really well despite her size. She’ll be primarily a wing, but we can put her at the forward position as well. She’s another one that doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.
“I feel like this year we will be better at (running a transition-based offense) because it’s not going to matter who’s going to run out on the wing and we can just fill spots as we go,” Meliah said of the depth her team has. “Hopefully, we can catch some teams off guard that way and find some mismatches.”
Jaiden Hodnefield (a 5-6 junior) will be the primary threat for the Blue Devils on the outside.
“Jaiden has gotten a lot stronger, and so even though she’s only 5-7, she’ll be our main shooter,” Meliah said. “We’ll run her off screens and we’ll work to get her looks around the 3-pointer line.”
Kiana Molitor, a 5-4 junior, is the shortest player on the team, but brings a “feisty” brand of defense that helped land her on the conference all-defensive team last season.
She’ll spell Mikayla Ferenz at point guard.
“Kiana is known for her defense,” Meliah said. “She’s just feisty. Her biggest key to our success is her defensive pressure and get our team going defensively.”
The Blue Devils visit Lewiston tonight at 7 p.m. to open the season and host Davis Friday night before visiting Moses Lake Saturday.
“We have three games in four days, and that’s good because we’ll learn a lot in a short period of time,” Meliah said.
They host Pendleton Tuesday, and Chiawana on Dec. 14 to open MCC play.
With the new travel arrangements — boys and girls varsity teams will travel together as opposed to playing home-and-aways — the girls will tip off for league games at 5:45 p.m.
“These girls can play anywhere,” Meliah said of the change from last year’s 7:30 p.m. tipoffs. “You could roll the ball out in the parking lot and these girls will pick it up and play hard.”