The Hermiston volleyball team opens Columbia River Conference play this week, their first as defending league champions in this millenium.

The Bulldogs (3-3)?have sharpened their skills in the preseason with a pair of tournaments and two non-league matches. They are 2-0 in best-of-five matches this season and have a 9-7 record in individual games.

The No. 8-ranked Bulldogs’ first CRC?match is today. They’ll travel to play No. 14 Hood River Valley, which opened its season with a road win over Pendleton last week.

 The Eagles (1-1-1, 1-0 CRC)?have posted a 6-6 record in individual games and do not have a player at the net to match returning Player of the Year Crystal Schmidt — something every CRC?team will struggle to do this season.

While the Eagles pose a tougher matchup for the Bulldogs, The Dalles Wahtonka (0-1, 0-1 CRC) comes to the Dawg House on Thursday for Hermiston’s league home-opener at 6:30 p.m.

The No. 27 Eagle Indians lost to No. 17 Pendleton 3-1 in their only best-of-five match but got in a little more work in at the Mountain View Tournament over the weekend.

Their warm-up for Thursday’s match won’t be quite as intense as Hermiston’s, though, as the Eagle Indians have scheduled a match against their alumni for today.

Hermiston is the clear favorite on paper but The Dalles Wahtonka was able to surprise each team in the CRC?once last season, and will not be a pushover. Hermiston went 11-5 in individual games against the Eagle Indians last year.

Nothing less than a win will satisfy the Hermiston faithful but the pressure of defending their home court after a title season is something new for this team — although some were freshmen on the girls’ basketball team that was charged in defending their 2007-08 Intermountain Conference title.

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