With a new league just around the corner, the Bucks are in for some surprises.

The Pendleton girls basketball team took the Columbia River Conference title the two previous seasons. But this year they join the Intermountain Conference, which means a new set of challengers.

League action tips off Friday, Jan. 11, against Hood River Valley (2-10) at home.

“We were the first team to win the CRC that wasn’t named ‘Hermiston’ since its inception,” said coach Kevin Porter. “My goal is to win the IMC — there’s no question.”

The Buckaroo girls are currently 3-8 for the preseason, and stand at No. 4 in the 5A IMC. Porter says it’s been a tough road to the league, but “that’s a good thing.”

“You want to play teams that challenge you and help you get better for the league,” Porter said. “At times, we haven’t played our best, but we’re a much better team than the start of the season — that’s what we set out to accomplish.

“We’ve played basketball better than I had expected at this point in the season, but at the same time we need consistency. We gotta do it on a night in, night out basis.”

The girls will hit the road to La Grande for one final preseason tuneup on Tuesday, Jan. 8. Porter says he’s not sure what to expect from the new teams they’ll face in league play.

“I do know this, though: it doesn’t matter what the other teams do; if you execute your game plan, you leave it up to the other team to stop it,” he said. “That’s our goal.”

For Pendleton boys coach Zach Dong, even more uncertainty lies ahead.

This season is Dong’s first as the Bucks’ head coach, and he says the team is still getting used to his style and expectations.

“We’re slowly but surely making progress, but we’re nowhere near where we want to be,” he said. “My goal is to win the league.”

Dong says his team is “talented offensively,” but has been spending recent practices polishing their defensive game. He wants to hold every team in the IMC to 10 points or less per quarter.

The Bucks, ranked No. 1 in the IMC, have already faced one league opponent this preseason — they beat No. 6-ranked Ridgeview 82-63 at the Summit Holiday Tournament on Saturday. Senior guard Tyler Newsom sunk a record nine 3-pointers at the game.

“He’s a quiet leader,” Dong said of Newsom. “Offensively, everything goes through Tyler. It’s no secret. He’ll help us in the league.”

Last year, the Bucks lost a league championship game to Hermiston, followed by a playoff loss to Thurston.

“I’m not sure what to expect this year,” Dong said of the IMC. “It’ll be full of surprises.”

Pendleton (7-4) rounds out the preseason when they host La Grande on Tuesday. They’ll start league play on Friday, Jan. 11, at Hood River Valley (5-4).

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