Welcome back to Yakima. The Black Hills High School girls basketball team has been here before.
But, this time, the top-ranked Wolves enter the Class 2A state tournament this weekend with a very realistic target — winning it.
Tanya Greenfield, in her fifth season coaching the Wolves, said the vision is different this season.
“Last year it was — let’s get there,” Greenfield said. “This year? Not at all. They understand what it takes and what it means to be in Yakima.”
Black Hills took sixth a year ago in its first trip to the Yakima Valley SunDome since 2010. The program took second as a 2A team in 1999, but has never won a state title.
This season, the Wolves (22-1) enter as the tournament favorite after holding the top ranking in 2A for most of the season.
Black Hills hasn’t lost since December — a road loss to White River in overtime.
“I was really curious how my team would respond back from a loss — their only loss so far,” Greenfield said. “The resiliency they showed in that game was something that stuck out to me this year.”
The Wolves have rolled off 18 straight wins since that trip to White River, and it’s rarely been close. Black Hills puts up 62.0 points per game, opponents average 39.3.
Emma Duff, The Olympian’s 2017 All-Area girls basketball player of the year, leads the Wolves with 18.7 points per game.
“Our team is so strong,” Duff said. “We have so many utilities. I think that’s why we’re ranked No. 1.”
Maisy Williams, a sophomore, contributes another 11.2 points, eight rebounds and three blocks per game.
Lindsey Nurmi, a junior and the Wolves’ point guard, tosses in 10.3 points per game and rarely turns the ball over.
Not to mention Black Hills returned most of its roster from last season.
“I think it’s a lot better that we’ve been there,” Nurmi said.
True — less jitters for the opening game. Lynden — the eventual state runner-up — topped Black Hills, 59-44, in last season’s quarterfinals.
But the Wolves have plenty of composure this season, and big opponents haven’t been a problem.
Black Hills was ranked below Washougal — the team that beat it for fourth place last season — last December. The Wolves routed the Panthers, 59-35.
“You can really feel the energy when we have games against big opponents,” Duff said. “Everyone is playing with confidence and everyone is ready to prove why we have that No. 1 ranking.”
Black Hills has done it time and again.
The Wolves beat fourth-ranked W.F. West (20-4) three times this season. The first two times to secure a second consecutive undefeated 2A Evergreen Conference title.
The third to win a second consecutive 2A Southwest District championship, and the two could meet a fourth and final time in the state championship game.
“With W.F. West, it’s always been a confidence thing, and this year it switched — we had the confidence,” Duff said.
This after their rival from Chehalis has appeared in — and taken home a trophy from — the 2A state tournament five of the past six years.
Winning big games against opponents such as the Bearcats has helped the Wolves build confidence, Duff said.
“I think while we’re preparing, we try to make sure we’re not losing our confidence, and we’re keeping our heads on our shoulders,” she said.
“I think that’s why we do well. Even though there’s a lot of hype right now, I think we still have to remain calm.”
Greenfield, Duff, Nurmi — everyone is excited for what the weekend could have in store. But the Wolves won’t get ahead of themselves.
“We definitely believe in it, but we don’t even talk about that game right now,” Duff said.
“When we get to Yakima, we’ll focus on our first game, focus on our second game, and just take it by each game.”
Class 2A girls basketball state tournament
Wednesday-Saturday at the Yakima Valley SunDome
Thursday: Wapato (20-3) vs. Black Hills (22-1), 7:15 p.m.
Thursday: Prosser-Archbishop Murphy winner vs. W.F. West (20-4), 9 p.m.
Rest of schedule: Thursday — quarterfinals from 3:45 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday — semifinals at 7:15 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday — title game at 7 p.m.
This tournament will have a new champion this year — defending champion Shorecrest is already out. Black Hills has enjoyed the top ranking in 2A for most of the season, and the Wolves are on an 18-game winning streak after their only loss to then-top-ranked White River in December. Emma Duff leads Black Hills, which finished sixth last season, with 18.7 points per game.
W.F. West is the other local team that could play deep into the tournament. The Bearcats are balanced, with several players hovering around 10 points per game. W.F. West’s relentless pressure has the tendency to give other teams fits, and cause turnovers. The Bearcats typically turn those into points, averaging 66.4 points per game.