Cougars' senior Mollie Lewandowski named Valley 10 League Most Valuable Player

Country Christian's girls' basketball team is headed back to Baker once again after thumping Damascus Christian 32-18 last Saturday to take the Valley 10 title. PIONEER PHOTO: CONNER WILLIAMS  - Country Christian senior Mollie Lewandowski was named the Valley 10 League's Most Valuable Player as she
averaged 16 points and 15 rebounds per league game this season.

The game was very much a defensive battle as neither team broke into the double digits in any quarter, but the Cougars were able to muster enough offense, along with forcing two three-point quarters for Damascus, to come out as the conference winners.

The Cougars held Damascus to a scoreless first quarter up until the last seconds when Tory Webb tossed up a three-pointer from the hip at the buzzer as it fell in to keep the Eagles in it.

Country Christian took an 11-3 lead early into the second quarter when senior Anna Farner found junior Sarah Phillips through traffic for a layup.

After going down 17-9 at the half, Damascus kept pace in the third quarter, earning five points early on when Noelle Wakefield hit a deep three-pointer.

The Cougars took command when junior Katie Sandberg forced a closely-guarded violation on the Eagles for a turnover. She then took advantage of the turnover, earning a double to put Country Christian up 26-12.

"We really pushed the transition pretty hard, and we didn't get a lot of easy buckets from it since they were able to get back in time, but I do think it helped from a fatigue perspective," head coach Russel Halverson said. "For their offense to be effective, they want to attack hard off the dribble, and that's harder when you're fatigued."

"They had a post (Tory Webb) who hurt us a couple times last time we played, so we put Mollie [Lewandowski] on her and it stifled their offense quite a bit," he said. "I thought from a perspective of defense and rebounding, that was one of our best performances."

Halverson said the low scoring was likely attributed to the way the game was called in that the players were allowed to be a bit more physical with each other than they might be in other matchups, which didn't result in very many free throws. PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: DAVID BALL - Country Christian senior Anna Farner makes her way down the court during the Cougars' 32-18 win over Damascus Christian for the Valley 10 League title.

Lewandowski was named the Valley 10 League Most Valuable Player this year, and it doesn't come as much of a surprise when she averaged 16 points and 15 rebounds per game in league play.

"I've been coaching a lot of years, and I don't know that I've seen somebody be such a unanimous player of the year," Halverson said. "Normally there's some conversation at the coaches' meeting, and I don't know that there was any question this year."

"She is a really special kid, a kid you don't get that often," he said. "Now having the ability to rotate the extra body with Anna [Farner] and not having Mollie have to come backup point guard is huge for us."

With the win, Country Christian earns a first-round bye into the Class 1A state tournament, where they have the no. 1 seed.

Looming in the distance is 2017 state champion Nixyaawii, who is undefeated and has beaten every team they've played by at least 20 points, save for Powder Valley in the Old Oregon League championship game, where they won 71-53. It's not unlikely that the Cougars will face off with the Golden Eagles yet again in the title game, but there are many talented teams to get through first.

"From where things sit this year, it's one of the deeper pools of 1A talent I've seen in a long time," Halverson said. "Even on our side of the bracket, Jordan Valley is really good, Joseph is good – they led us in the fourth quarter at home earlier this season – there's some really good teams over there."

"I do think it's amazing that of the remaining 16 teams, generally I kind of have an idea of who the better teams are, and this year we've seen almost every team other than three or four of them, so that makes it easier for me to collect information and film."PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: DAVID BALL - Country Christian junior Sarah Phillips looks to make a move to the basket during the
COugars' 32-18 win over Damascus Christian on Saturday for the Valley 10 title.

And though it's been said before, Country Christian's path to get to this point this season was not as clear as it has been in the past, with the loss of three players after last season throwing a huge wrench in everyone's expectations and outlooks. But the return of Farner has put a cherry on top of a stellar season that took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to achieve.

"If you would've told me this is where we'd be at with what we lost … they are remarkable with how well they've played all season," Halverson said. "We had to figure out how to adjust for those lost pieces … and you see kids step up every year, and it always blows me away to see who steps up and fills in those roles."

The Cougars will that on Lowell Friday, Feb. 23 at home at 7 p.m.

Gresham Outlook sports editor David Ball contributed to this report.

Conner Williams
Sports Reporter/News Contributor
503-829-2301 ext. 341
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