WALLOWA — Wallowa girls basketball coach Greg Oveson had a good problem during his first week of practice.

The Cougars have 17 players out on the hardwood, and the coach had some decisions to make about who would end up on the varsity and who would be placed on the junior varsity.

“I have the problem of I have so many people I have to make that decision,” he said. “The last few years I coached, we were lucky to have enough people to even scrimmage. This is a good problem to have. Unfortunately, some girls are going to get cut off of varsity. We’re really young, they all have the chance to keep improving.”

The Cougars are coming off a 1-5 COVID-condensed spring season, but many of the games were tight. The last full season Wallowa played, the team went 13-13, missing out on the state playoffs by one game.

“(We were) in all but one of them,” Oveson said. “I think the familiarity between the coaches and the girls is going to make a huge difference. That is going to help.”

Youth will be served this winter for Wallowa. Among the 17 players Oveson has out, only three are juniors or seniors.

“We’ve got a couple sophomores and freshmen. Somewhere along the line I think a couple are going to step up and help us,” Oveson said.

Senior Haley Brockamp and junior Libby Fisher lead the upperclassmen returners. Abby Tippet, another senior, is back after a couple years away from the court, Oveson said.

There is optimism among the upperclassmen, as well. Brockamp called it a group she believes “can go far.”

“I think we’re a lot closer as a team this year, and we have lots of shooters. We have some tall girls,” she said. “We have some good freshmen this year, too, that came up from junior high.”

Fisher also expressed optimism about the upcoming campaign.

“I was really excited for this team. I have been for years,” she said Thursday, Nov. 18. “I think this is the group to do it. I’ve seen a lot of improvement over the last four days. (They have) the will to win. They really want it and they work hard. And even though they’re younger, they don’t let that hold them back. They jump right in.”

The leading underclassmen, who gained experience during the spring for Oveson, include sophomores Sophie Moeller, Zoe Hermens, Karly Baremore and Cecilia April.

Oveson expects the Cougars will lean on their defense, especially early in the season as they find a flow on offense.

“I think that we’re pretty aggressive on defense,” he said. “We made some mistakes last year. We actually are a pretty good-sized team. We got three girls that are 5-9, maybe one is 5-10. The thing is, they’re fast. They’re really fast. And then some really aggressive guards. I’m hoping we can really focus on our defense this year.

“As young as we are, I know we’re going to struggle to score. We’re going to have to rely on our defense and some skills to create some offense. There are going to be nights (where) we’re going to struggle shooting the ball from outside.”

The Cougars open the season Wednesday, Dec. 1 at Enterprise, then host South Wasco County on Friday, Dec. 3. That will be Wallowa’s only home game until the new year, when it opens Old Oregon League play — and 2022 — at home against Joseph.

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