WALLOWA — Wallowa girls basketball head coach Greg Oveson guided the Cougars to their best season in a decade as the team went 16-9, posted its most wins since going 19-9 in 2012, and returned to the state playoffs — and did so with a team that consisted of one senior, two juniors and a slew of underclassmen.

Oveson was rewarded for his effort, named by his fellow Old Oregon League coaches as the OOL girls coach of the year.

“I was really surprised,” Oveson said of the award. “Honored by it. It’s always nice when your fellow coaches give you a pat on the back. Also shows if you just stay around along enough you’re bound to win something sometime.”

Wallowa got rolling after a slow start that saw it open the season 4-4. The Cougars went on to win 10 of their next 13 games, including victories over Enterprise, who reached the 2A playoffs, 1A playoff team Powder Valley, and a regular-season ending victory at Joseph. In fact only the Eagles (Jan. 4) and Nixyaawii (twice) defeated Wallowa in league action.

After edging Elgin and falling to Powder Valley in the first two games of the OOL district tournament, the Cougars eked out a 35-34 win against Joseph in the third-place game for their first playoff berth since 2019.

“Our kids have worked pretty hard this year. We’ve improved from the start of the year to the end,” Oveson said.

The Cougars’ season ended with a rough loss to Jordan Valley in the first round of the state playoffs, but the future looks bright for Wallowa with four starters returning, including three players who earned all-league accolades.

Leading the way in the player awards for Wallowa was sophomore Zoe Hermens, whose efforts netted her a spot on the first team alongside Rachael Stirewalt of Imbler; Mersayus Hart of Nixyaawii; Dallee Bingham of Powder Valley; and OOL player of the year Sophie Bronson of Nixyaawii.

Sophie Moeller was a second-team player for the Cougars, and Libby Fisher was named honorable mention.

“Those are our three leading scorers. They each had up and down parts of the season, (and) while we didn’t put it all together at the end, we’re getting close, and hopefully we can do some stuff this summer and keep building,” Oveson said.

The three combined for almost 75% of the team’s offense. Hermens averaged 11.25 points per game, Moeller netted 8.5 points per game and Fisher had 6.5 points per game.

Joseph landed its top two players on the team, as Aimee Meyers finished with a second-team nod, and Cooper Nave was listed as honorable mention.

The Eagles fell just a couple points shy of a state playoff bid, but, like Wallowa, returns a slew of players, including four starters from a team that finished 12-11 for coach Lance Homan.

Four earn honors for Joseph boys

On the boys side, Joseph saw four players recognized. Sharpshooter Blade Suto was tapped as a first-team award winner alongside Cole Morgan of Pine Eagle, Patrick Frisch of Cove, Aaron Barkley and Baron Moses of Nixyaawii, and Kaden Krieger and Reece Dixon of Powder Valley, with Dixon being named player of the year. Imbler’s Tony Haddock was selected as boys coach of the year.

Chase Homan earned a spot on the second team, and honorable mention went to James Burney and Hayden Hite.

I am super proud of all the players that made these teams,” head coach Olan Fulfer said. “They worked hard to get there. The coaches showed our team a lot of respect with voting four players onto the all-league teams, and that is rare to ever have that many.”

Wallowa’s Willie Gibbs rounded out his basketball career earning honorable mention.

“(He’s) a senior that worked hard to get where he ended up this year,” Wallowa head coach Deon Chandler said of Gibbs. “Great young man.”

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