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It might be cliché, but it holds true.

With the incredible start the Ellensburg High School girls basketball team is on, head coach Jeff Whitney wants the Bulldogs to take it game by game.

And that can be said regardless of the team’s record. But with Ellensburg undefeated at 9-0, it’s been imperative it doesn’t become complacent.

“Each game you play like you’re a championship team,” Whitney said after the Bulldogs defeated Othello High School 50-29 Friday night. “If you have that mental mindset, then good things happen.”

Ironically, it was at this point last season that Bulldogs neared their slump, dropping three straight conference games.

But Ellensburg (9-0, 7-0 CWAC) isn’t exactly the same team. While it didn’t lose a single senior, the biggest difference isn’t on the stat sheet: It’s the experience the Bulldogs gained.

“I think the fact that we didn’t lose anyone and we just kind of built on it which was really great,” said sophomore Dylan Philip. “We saw that same chemistry as last year.”

The Bulldogs came into the 2019-20 season as a clear favorite for the CWAC title, but they’re also looking like a contender for the 2A state championship.

Ellensburg was a surprise last season with a new coach and a plethora of young faces, but qualified for districts and made it all the way to the district championship before falling to Grandview.

On Friday, the Bulldogs cruised by a feeble Othello (0-9, 0-8 CWAC) after a two-week break. Senior Brinley Hagemeier (12 points) and Philip (nine points) led the way, and freshman Rylee Leishman chipped in for eight points.

The Bulldogs defense continues to thrive, as it forced 20 turnovers and scored 18 points off of them. In league play, Ellensburg is yielding 37.6 points per game which leads the CWAC.

Currently, Ellensburg ranks No. 1 in the WIAA’s RPI ahead of Lynden High School (9-0).

Prior to the matchup, Whitney said the RPI ranking was discussed, but he reminded them that where they stand right now doesn’t mean anything.

“They were talking about that today in shootaround, and I’m like, ‘that’s all great, but it’s where we’re at the end of the year. So, keep your eyes on the big prize and it’s game by game,’” Whitney said.

Ellensburg began conference play with three of the top CWAC opponents in Grandview (9-1, 7-1 CWAC), East Valley (6-3, 4-3 CWAC) and Prosser (5-4, 5-2 CWAC). The Bulldogs outscored those three teams 156-130.

But it’s always a little more difficult when teams meet again later in the season.

“We can’t be complacent. We have to be ready because everyone’s tougher the second time around,” Hagemeier said.

While it wasn’t Philip’s best night as she scored all nine points in the first half, she continues to be Ellensburg’s bedrock scorer, averaging 16.8 points per game.

But her presence is felt on both ends of the floor. She tallied eight steals versus Othello, five alone in the third quarter.

“She plays an all-around game,” Whitney said. “She can pass, she can steal. … She can do it at both ends, which for us, makes us a much better team.”

Ellensburg is still young, as three of its starters are sophomores (Philip, Kaelynn Smith, and Katie Blume). The year of experience as freshmen paid dividends, but also did for the rest of the team, including Hagemeier.

She’s averaging 10.1 points per game.

“I think a lot of it is maturity,” Hagemeier said of the difference the Bulldogs are at now compared to last season. “Like myself, I played a lot of basketball this summer, and I got to see a lot of different things, play a lot of different people, and so did everyone else. We played a lot more basketball, and I think we’re just more grown and in our goals.”

NEXT UP

Ellensburg travels to Toppenish (5-3, 4-3 CWAC) for a 3:30 p.m. tip-off today.

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