Crook County Cowgirl basketball team meaures success by improvement during season

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - McKinzee Mode is one of four seniors on this year's Cowgirl roster and is known as the team's strongest defensive player.No one knew what kind of impact moving up to Class 5A would have on this season's Crook County High School girls basketball team.

After all, the team had managed just five wins during the 2017-2018 basketball season, and at least in theory, Class 5A is tougher than Class 4A.

"Moving up and playing teams like Redmond was tough," Crook County head coach Heidi Lea said following the season. "We played some of the 4A schools in preseason, and we were right there with them."

At least in part, that is true. The Cowgirls defeated former league rival Corbett and had two close games with Estacada.

However, Crook County also dropped a 16-point game to Molalla and were blasted by Madras.

Still, the move up to Class 5A probably did have an impact on the Cowgirl season.

The team finished the season with a 3-17 record, with just two wins over Class 5A opponents.

However, the biggest difference in moving up to Class 5A was probably in the sub-varsity programs.

The Cowgirls had one of their best freshmen classes in recent years, with three freshmen playing varsity all season and others seeing at least spot time on the varsity squad.

"The ideal situation would be to keep our freshmen together," Lea said. "If we would have kept those kids together and played a freshman schedule or a JV 2 schedule, I think they would have been very competitive. As it is, I think they held their own."

Like the varsity team, both the JV and JV 2 teams struggled to win games. However, they were in a lot of close games where they had a chance to win.

In addition, although it didn't translate to wins, the Cowgirl varsity team did show measurable progress as the season progressed.

The Intermountain Conference season was cut short due to weather-related issues.

Still, the Cowgirls showed measureable progress when you compare their first meeting with IMC teams to the games that they were able to play in the second half of the league season.

In their first meeting, Crook County lost by 33 to The Dalles. However, in their second meeting, the Cowgirls were up 17-11 at the end of the first quarter and lost by just 18.

Likewise, in the two teams' first meeting, the Cowgirls fell by 46 to Pendleton, while in the second meeting, the team stayed closer, falling by just 31.

Lea looks at that progress as something that the team can build on.

"I think we are on the road to where we want to be going," she said. "We have some young girls who are coming up, and I think that next year we will be competitive. I can see us battling for third."

Crook County does return most of their lineup as the team graduated just four seniors. One of those seniors, Gracie Kasberger, was injured during soccer season and was unable to play basketball this year, instead acting as the team's manager.

As a three-year starter, Kasberger could have had an impact on this year's squad.

"Grace just hung in there as our manager all year, even though she was injured," Lea said.

"The remaining three seniors, McKenzie Mode, Heather Ptomey and Makiya McCellan, all contributed to the team in a big way.

Mode was the team's defensive stopper, while Ptomey was a steady player who filled in wherever she was needed.

"McKenzie is a defensive dynamo," Lea said. "She just makes up for other people getting beat, and she is very unselfish and does what she has to do, and Heather is our silent leader, who just does her job and leads by example."

Although McClellan didn't always see a lot of court time, Lea said that she was one of the team's leaders.

"Makiya is just a good teammate," Lea said. "We had a little tournament at the end of the year, and she ended up winning the bump championship and was on the three-on-three tournament championship team. She isn't flashy, but she does little things and is very meticulous about what she does."

Lea added that the team is going to miss the leadership that her four seniors provided.

Still, the Cowgirls return most of their scoring and rebounding.

Sophomore post player Liz Barker averaged more than 10 rebounds a game, while freshman post Josie Kasberger moved into the starting lineup late in the year and also was a force on the boards.

In addition to Barker, fellow sophomores Teagan Freeman and Dallas Hutchins provided scoring punch.

With just one junior on this year's roster, swing player Maddie Rash, that means that the Cowgirls will have virtually their entire roster intact for two more seasons.

That roster includes freshmen McCall Woodward and Grace Brooks as well as sophomore Syrie Ossenkop.

In addition, freshman Emma Bales, who was expected to start but played in just three games because of an injury, will also return.

"I love the group of girls that we are working with, and we have a great coaching staff," Lea said. "We are going to have a spring league and try to get a group together that can play in some tournaments. We also have a group that is excited to go up to a point guard camp in Washington. We just need to get the kids in the gym and playing basketball."

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