Nyssa girls varsity prep squad keeps the focus on the next game, not rankings

Nyssa girls varsity basketball coach Jeremy Chamberlain talks to his players during a break in practice last week at Nyssa High School. Chamberlain credits talent and a strong worth ethic as two key pieces of the success of the Lady Bulldogs so far this season. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

NYSSA – They are one of the top-ranked prep teams in the state but you wouldn’t know it by talking to one of the senior starters of the Nyssa girls varsity basketball team.

It isn’t that the Lady Bulldogs don’t care about rankings and records.

They just don’t spend a lot of time pondering the week-to-week rankings.

They’ve more important things to concentrate on.

Like the next game.

“We focus on what we know we need to do,” said Nyssa senior forward Kate Vineyard.

The Lady Bulldogs are 14-1 – they haven’t lost a game since a 51-39 setback against Melba Jan. 4 – and ranked No. 1 in 3A by the Oregon School Activities Association.

There is the temptation to search for the secret recipe to their success, the X factor that elevates this group of small town young women but there isn’t one, said senior Brooklyn Johns.

Nyssa varsity girls basketball coach Jeremy Chamberlain chats with junior forward Gracie Johnson during practice last week. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

Johns, in fact, acted surprised when ask what was the crucial piece of the Lady Bulldog hardcourt puzzle one day last week at practice.

“If you work hard you win,” said Johns with a shrug.

It was a single, declarative sentence that encapsulated a season for the Lady Bulldogs.

“The reality is the rankings don’t mean anything to us. Showing up on the court and getting things done does,” said Johns.

Vineyard said she wasn’t sure where the Bulldogs are ranked.

“I haven’t looked. I know we are up there. For the most part we focus on ourselves,” said Vineyard.

The Bulldogs can trace a large part of their success to last season, said coach Jeremy Chamberlain.

Coach Chamberlain chats with assistant coach Josh DeAnda at practice recently. Chamberlain said talent and focus are crucial elements to the success of the Lady Bulldogs. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

Nyssa finished out the Covid-abbreviated season with third place at the state tournament and the momentum from that triumph spilled over into winter schedule.

“Last year’s success really spring boarded us into this year,” said Chamberlain.

Talent and luck play pivotal roles, said Chamberlain.

“We have some really good athletes. We knew we had some good athletes coming in but I thought we’d take longer to jell,” said Chamberlain.

The Bulldogs opened the season with 10 straight victories before the Melba loss and that win steak can be traced back to the veteran nature of the team, said Chamberlin.

“Our seniors are very experienced,” said Chamberlain.

Among Nyssa’s talent on the floor is 6-foot-5 forward Gracie Johnson. Johnson proved to be a force to be reckoned with – she is the Lady Bulldogs’ leading scorer – and adds a unique element to a team that prides itself on dominating inside the paint.

Opposing teams, naturally, often try to shut down Johnson, which opens up other opportunities for Nyssa, said Chamberlain.

When the focus shifts to Johnson, he said, his other players take advantage, scorching opposing teams with points.

“Everyone knows we have Gracie but she can step off the floor and we have other players that can play,” said Johnson.

Experience is also an important factor. Most of the starters have played together since sixth or seventh grade, said senior Lynzie Torres.

“We are kind of like an older team. We all know what each other’s strengths and weaknesses are,” said Torres.

That familiarity and the knowledge of how to win can be crucial during a tight game. A good case in point was the Lady Bulldogs’ come-from-behind 41-39 league victory over Vale Jan. 15.

The Vikings took control early and held momentum until the final five minutes.

Then it was as if a light was switched on. Nyssa regained momentum down the stretch to record the win.

“There is a point, as a team, where we have that moment, that realization, that we need to get going,” said Vineyard.

There is also a subtle philosophy among the Bulldogs that they have something to show the rest of the state.

Vineyard said one of her goals is to “prove, even though we are on the east side, to let the other side of the state know we are here.”

Chamberlin emphasized there are still a lot of games remaining on Nyssa’s Eastern Oregon League schedule and success isn’t guaranteed.

Opposing teams, he said, will deliver their best game when they face the Bulldogs.

“I think they know there is a target on their back. Our league is tough. The travel makes it tough and there are some tough teams,” said Chamberlain.

A 14-1 record, he said, is a testament to the work ethic of the Bulldogs but specific items need to be tweaked.

“I think we need to learn to stay out of foul trouble and run a half-court offense when a team slows the game down,” said Chamberlain.

Then Chamberlain peered out over the Nyssa High School gym as his players prepared for practice.

“They show up every night, ready to practice, ready to work,” he said.

The internal Lady Bulldog mantra is the slogan “prove it,” and Vineyard said a sharp focus on the here and now will pay dividends for her team.

“One game at a time,” said Vineyard.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].

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