Last season the Central girls basketball team missed out on the postseason by a razor-thin margin when they were edged by Milwaukee for the final playoff spot. This season with the group coming back the Panthers believe they can make a run to the postseason and quite possibly earn a spot to the final site in Gill Coliseum in Corvallis.
“I thought we played pretty well last year,” said head coach Marc Burleson. “We just barely missed the playoffs and we were kind of disappointed that we didn’t make the playoffs. So that’s going to be definitely a motivating factor coming into this year. And I’ve already seen a mentality change in the kids and especially the seniors. They’re kind of on a mission this year.”
Returning captain and first-team all-conference selection Sadie Wendring will be a key player for Central this season. Hadley Craig was the lone freshman on the varsity team and earned a second-team all-conference selection at the end of the season. Wendring and Craig will lead a group of five returning varsity players as this group of Panthers aim their sites on the postseason.
“We’ve been talking a lot with the seniors about what they want to leave as kind of their legacy at Central,” said Burleson. “And they’re focused on wanting to make the playoffs. They’ve been talking about playoffs since summer league, which is back in June. And I can just tell the mentality and their intensity and practice. They’re holding themselves and you know, the younger kids that are on varsity accountable.”
“We have a full roster this season, we have 12. And all 12, you know, can see minutes. So it’s kind of a fun and tough position to be in because all 12 can see minutes and produce when they need to get in there, they kind of have been talking about roles, and what we’re expecting from them, and our expectations are high,” Burleson added. “And at this point, in practice, they’ve met our expectations and are kind of exceeding them just with their mentality and work ethic.”
Central finished fifth in the Mid-Willamette Conference in 2021 and allowed the third least amount of points scored in the league. This season the Panthers hope to build on that and shoot up the league standings.
“This year, a successful season would be in the top three in the league for sure,” said Burleson. “And then obviously we want to make the playoffs and I think we can make it to Gill with the group that we have. One thing that we did talk about was trying to get a home playoff game. So I think that’d be kind of icing on the cake, which means we’re in the top eight, or at least winning the conference to get a home playoff game. I think we have the capability and the means to do that.”
The Panthers season gets underway Dec. 2 with a home opener against a rival Cascade at 5:30 p.m.
“Cascade is going to be tough,” said Burleson. “Obviously, they have a new coach this year, and they lost 10 players from last year. Cascade is traditionally always tough. We’ve talked a lot in our team meetings that it’s one day at a time, one step at a time and one game at a time. We have to stay focused on what our goals are for that game and every step is one step up the ladder. So as long as we can maintain ourselves, be patient and focus on what we can control and stop worrying about stuff that we can’t control. Then I think we’ll be successful and obviously the first game there’s a lot of jitters and a lot of butterflies just because it’s the first game and everyone’s pretty hyped up. So it should be a fun matchup.”