Hermiston left the Columbia River Conference last year with the league title in hand, and one win from the state tournament.
This season, the Bulldogs move into the competitive Mid-Columbia Conference, and coach Casey Arstein is happy to pack up their gear and head across the border.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “Every night will be competitive. We are excited to do home and away games against good athletes. It’s good all the way around.”
The Bulldogs will open their season Friday, hosting Lewiston in a nonleague game. The game will follow the girls’ matchup, which is another benefit of moving to the MCC. Hermiston will open league play Dec. 8 at Kennewick.
In the MCC, the girls and boys teams play back-to-back at the same venue, and each team will play the other eight opponents twice.
Though the league plays as one during the season, the 3A and 4A schools split for the postseason.
Hermiston is in the 3A ranks with the three Kennewick schools — Kamiakin, Kennewick and Southridge.
“Having 16 league games, and every game is a battle, will be different,” Arstein said. “Every team in the league has a kid who could play college basketball. You couldn’t say that about our old league. It’s nice to play good teams, and every team will have athletes. I know Earl Streufert (Richland coach) really well. I’m glad we didn’t have to play them last year.”
The Bulldogs enter the MCC with a group of talented players, led by Ryne Andreason and Cesar Ortiz, who were first-team CRC players last year, and Jordan Ramirez, who was a second-team selection.
The one thing Hermiston lacks is a dominant presence inside. Junior Blake Davis is 6-foot-4, but from there, the Bulldogs rely on their athletic ability and knowledge of the game.
“We have a bunch of smart kids with high basketball IQs,” Arstein said. “Ryne is our best athlete, but there isn’t one guy who is our main guy. Most of these guys have played together since the second grade.”
And most have played against the Tri-City teams in summer league, and in nonleague games over the years.
“They know those Tri-City kids,” Arnstein said. “We’ve played a lot of those schools, minus a couple.”