Consider this puzzle.
The Black Hills High School girls basketball team has 10 players on its roster, including three returning starters.
The Wolves stellar guard, Emma Duff, a Western Washington signee, averaged 18 points and nine rebounds per game last season.
Their relentless post, Maisy Williams, typically records double-digit blocks, and is a matchup nightmare. And guard Lindsey Nurmi is experienced and composed.
Two of these girls are 6 feet tall.
Now, try to game plan around Black Hills, which has a bench loaded with several other returners. Not such an easy puzzle to solve, is it?
“Every single person that steps on the court is a threat for us,” said Duff, who was the co-MVP of the Class 2A Evergreen Conference last season. “That’s something a lot of teams don’t have.”
Duff has a history of being the biggest threat, and is the team’s leading scorer early on this season. She’s physical and has a swift shot that tends to find the bottom of the net.
But she insists that the team isn’t built around her. To her, the Wolves are loaded at every position, and each one of her teammates is as central as she is.
“We know that Emma is an outstanding player,” Black Hills coach Tanya Greenfield said. “When it comes down to it, she’s the best at creating offense. When we need to score, it’s going to be in her hands.
“That said, if you’re preparing to play us, you’ve got to key on Maisy, and you’ve got to key on Lindsey, and you’ve got to key on some of our big girls, and some of our younger players.”
So, back to that puzzle — opposing teams have had trouble solving it. The Wolves, who took sixth at the 2A state tournament in Yakima last season, topped their first four opponents this season by a comfortable, double-digit margin.
And those weren’t easy opponents. Black Hills bested Thurston County rival Timberline, a 3A school, in its season opener. Then the Wolves beat two teams, Washougal and Anacortes, that played in the SunDome last March, and a tough Montesano team.
“Everyone’s goal is to be in the same spot we were last year,” Duff said. “Be in a position that’s going to (get us) where we want to be by the end of the season. I think right now we’re just taking it step by step.
“It’s definitely a confidence boost playing Anacortes and Washougal, those really strong teams, and being able to be successful. That’s something I think we should really use as motivation.”
Greenfield said that in Duff’s four years at Black Hills this is the best shot the Wolves have had at playing for a 2A title.
The Wolves took second in the state tournament in 1999, losing to Newport in the championship game, and haven’t played for a title since.
“The chemistry is really here with this group,” Duff said. “We’ve all been playing with each other for a really long time. Everyone wants to be together.”
Greenfield has pleasantly watched this group mature. Greenfield heard about a phenomenal eighth-grader several years ago named Emma Duff. Watching her progression to where she is now as a senior has been fun, Greenfield said.
“Her sophomore year, she was on the team and we were up in Lynden playing in a regional game, and she didn’t want to shoot,” Greenfield said. “Things that, as a younger player, you defer more, and you are hesitant to the upperclassmen.
“To watch her progress through that and become so confident, and such a good player, and such a hard worker, it has made our relationship a blast.”
Duff, who signed with Western in November after attending a team camp with Black Hills in Ellensburg last summer, certainly isn’t afraid to shoot now. She scrimmaged at Western earlier this year and, Greenfield said, it was clear she fit in at the college level.
Duff said she continues to work on her game. Last season, it was creating her own shot. This season, it is finishing on a drive.
Greenfield helps with improvements, too. She’ll challenge Duff in practice by prompting her to try more no-look passes or having Williams guard her.
“It’s just getting Emma to get to do those higher-level things,” Greenfield said. “The other part I rely on her for, and push her on, is the leadership piece.
“Not just floor leadership, but lead your team, be the one giving input, and she does all of those things.”
Duff, who was an Olympian All-Area selection last season, is the clear leader when the Wolves take the floor. But, she and Greenfield insist, the rest of the supporting cast is what makes Black Hills so dangerous.
“Everyone is just (setting) the bar so high,” Duff said.