How good are the Black Hills girls basketball team this season?
Consider this – there are times during practice when Emma Duff believes she’s not the best player on the court.
That’s actually saying a lot given the senior’s resume.
The reigning 2A Evergreen Conference MVP, Duff, who has already committed to Western Washington University, was an AP All-State honorable mention pick last year after leading the Wolves to the state playoffs for the first time in six years. The team finished sixth at state, giving Black Hills its first trophy since 2008.
Along the way the team won 22 games, stringing together a season-high eight-game winning streak, which was highlighted by a convincing 23-point triumph over 2015 state titlist Mark Morris in the District IV championship and two wins over EvCo juggernaut W.F. West, which broke the Bearcats’ longtime stranglehold on the conference.
Yes, it was a dream season, which surprised many outside the program.
A year later and with the majority lineup back for more, Black Hills, with the versatile 6-foot Duff flanked by a talent-rich roster, could turn out to be a nightmare for the opposition this season as they try to slow down the Wolves.
In addition to Duff, a player who can be seamlessly plugged into any spot on the court, Black Hills also welcomes back junior guard Lindsay Nurmi, a first-team selection last year, sophomore forward Maisy Williams, one of four 6-footers at the Wolves’ disposal, and seniors Rachel LaBelle, Taylor Patti and Kayley Moloney.
“Practices get intense,” said Duff, who is equally apt at handling the ball from the point guard position as she is posting up on the block. “We expect a lot out of each other. Everyone basically has the same level of intensity and everyone holds everyone to that level. We know that’s the only way we’re going to get better. No matter the match-up at practices, you know you’re going to get better. You know they’re going to push you.”
The talk of a second consecutive conference MVP rolls right off Duff, who actually downplays the accomplishment.
“Those aren’t my goals,” said Duff about postseason honors. “Whatever happens, happens. It’s something you can think about later, but right now it’s just fun being able to play with this group. I know there is so much potential on this team. One of things people always point out is that we look like we enjoy being out there together. I think that’s really special to have a team that always wants to be out there. I definitely don’t take that for granted.”
Prior to Black Hills’ recent 64-42 non-conference victory over Anacortes, Duff’s passion for the Wolves’ program shined through in the auxiliary gym a couple hours before tip-off where she could be found frantically cheering on the C-Team to a win.
“She’s just a great teammate. She roots for them the same way they root for her if not more,” Black Hills coach Tanya Greenfield said. “She’s jumping up and down at a C-team overtime game. A player that never really scores hits a 3 and she’s getting excited for her. She’s getting more excited for her than she ever does for herself. She’s just an all-around team player.”
And one that doesn’t even need to score to dictate the flow of a game.
“Her skill level is so high,” Greenfield said. “You have to focus on her whether she’s on or not. Thank goodness, she’s usually on.”
One new aspect this season Duff and her returning teammates can rely on is the experience gained through last year’s playoff run, which featured a regional round victory over Clarkston and a state tournament win over Mark Morris before losing to Washougal in the trophy round.
“There’s just a confidence difference this year,” said Duff, who struck for 19 points in a dominating 59-35 win earlier this season over the same Washougal squad that bested the Wolves at state last year. “Now that we’ve made it to state, I think it’s a big experience having gone and played in the (Yakima) SunDome. Now it’s not so much a wish as it is a goal. Last year it was, ‘I hope we can do this’ and this year it’s our goal and we’re going to get there.”
And while it is the ultimate accomplishment for each member of the team, Duff is in no rush to get to the postseason as she plans to take full advantage of every experience during her last year in a Wolves uniform.
“I’ve been playing with so many of these girls for so long,” Duff said. “Rachel LaBelle and I have been playing since kindergarten. It’s going to be a really emotional season as we realize it’s almost done, but I couldn’t ask for a better team and better group of girls to be with.”