Crook County has four freshmen on their varsity roster as they look to rebuild team

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Sarah Connolly brings the ball up the court against pressure during the Cowgirls' quarter against Ridgeview in Wednesday night's jamboree. Connolly led the Cowgirls in scoring in the jamboree with six points. In recent years, the once proud Crook County High School girls basketball team has fallen on hard times.

In their first four years in Class 4A, the Cowgirls went 44-59, including a winning season in 2011-2012 that saw the team reach the state tournament.

However, in the last three years, the Cowgirls have won just 12 games, while losing 57. More importantly, in that stretch, the Cowgirls have gone just 4-26 in Tri-Valley Conference play.

Second-year head coach Heidi Lea took over after the team had won just two games in 2015-2016 and had failed to win a league game. Both wins came before Christmas break and before the top two scorers on the Cowgirl team decided to quit in mid-season.

In her first season as head coach, things failed to turn around as the Cowgirls once again went 2-20, going 1-9 in conference play.

Although Lea realizes that the team still has a long ways to go before they can hope to challenge for a playoff spot, she is confident that this year's Cowgirl squad will be better than last year's.

"The girls are working really hard, and we are seeing improvement in practice," she said. "We just have to get that to transfer over to games. We have a good group of seniors that have set goals for themselves and for the team that they want to achieve. We are trying to get better than we were last year."

The Cowgirls saw exactly what they need to work on Wednesday night as they hosted Summit and Ridgeview in a jamboree.

Playing 12-minute quarters against each team, the Cowgirls fell behind 13-0 to Summit before finally falling 24-9 to the Storm.

After Summit easily defeated Ridgeview, the Cowgirls and the Ravens met up with Ridgeview coming away with a 19-8 victory.

Senior Sarah Connolly led the Cowgirls in scoring with six points in the two quarters of play, while freshmen Teagan Freeman and Dallas Hutchins each scored three. Junior McKinzee Mode added a pair of points on two made free throws, while freshman Kennedy Buckner added a bucket, and senior Emma Ackley made a free throw for the Cowgirls.

"The girls were getting the jitters out on the court," Lea said. "We struggle offensively because we just don't have that confidence and ball handling. We made so many errors. We second guess and pause and wait and you can't second guess. If you are going to shoot, you've got to shoot."

However, Lea was quick to add that she is seeing major improvements in shooting during practice, and it's only a matter of time before that starts showing up in games."

The Cowgirls have a blend of youth and experience on this year's roster.

The team has five seniors on the roster. In addition to Connolly and Ackley, post player Odessa Tramel-Green is seeing her first varsity experience, as is guard Allee Simmons. Cassidy Dill, who started on the varsity volleyball team each of the last four years, is playing basketball for the first time in high school and is also expected to contribute to the varsity team.

The Cowgirls also have four juniors on the roster, including Mode, Grace Kasberger and Heather Ptomey, who all saw varsity action a year ago, as well as Tansy Clark. In addition, the team has one sophomore, Alayna Denney, and four freshmen on the roster.

Those freshmen — Buckner, Freeman, Hutchins and Liz Barker — are all expected to make major contributions to the team this season.

Lea is pleased with the leadership that she is seeing from her seniors, especially Connolly.

"She's giving a positive attitude and has done a great job doing things to get them excited and keep them positive," Lea said of Connolly.

Lea is also high on Ackley and Dill because of their athletic ability.

"We don't have a lot of height, but Cassidy and Emma are both great at jumping and getting up there, so they both give us that rebounding ability under the basket," she said.

Lea is also high on her four freshmen, noting that both Hutchins and Buckner have a lot of speed, while Freeman is one of the team's best shooters, and Barker is the team's tallest player.

"She's big and she's going to push and shove down under the basket," Lea said of Barker. "We have a lot of young kids who are going to contribute."

Lea added that several players will swing between varsity and JV positions, getting five quarters of play each night.

"We have to figure out how many quarters of JV they are going to play and how many quarters of varsity," Lea said. "They are all going to have five quarters a night."

Lea is also pleased with how hard the freshman and JV teams have been working so far this year and is excited to start the regular season.

"When you practice for two weeks and you are just against your own kids and they are kind of battling each other, it's fun to see what they are doing when they get on the court against somebody else," Lea said. "The girls are going to get there."

The Cowgirls kick of the regular season on Friday when they host the Sisters Outlaws (6-15 a year ago) in a 5:30 p.m. game.

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