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Team has seen an increase in the number of people participating in open gyms and camps throughout the summer

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Josie Kasberger shoots over Emma Bales last Friday during the final day of the Cowgirls basketball camp. The camp was run by Ryan McCarthy, a CCHS graduate, who is now the head women's basketball coach at University of Alaska Anchorage. For the past several years, the Crook County High School girls basketball team has struggled to compete.

That may be starting to change.

After having difficulty fielding enough players to play summer games in recent years, this summer the Cowgirls have had plenty of competitors.

"We actually had a pretty good number," Head Coach Heidi Lea said of the team's summer work. "For most of our open gyms through June, we had 12-14 kids, which for us, that's great."

Lea added that the team had 14 girls go to a team camp at Oregon State, as well as plenty of players to play a series of summer games.

After winning just two league games last season and finishing with a 3-17 overall record, the Cowgirls were much more competitive this summer.

Last year, Redmond won the Intermountain Conference title. This summer, the Cowgirls played Redmond twice and Lea said that those games have increased the team's confidence.

"Both times we played Redmond without our full squad. The first time, they didn't keep the score because it was just a 20 minute running time thing when we went over there, but we kept it, and most of us left saying that we were definitely up and then we beat Redmond in Madras. Then when we played La Pine in the end, we had to pull back a little and we had to pull the press off. The girls were 'like wow.' They hadn't been in that situation."

The Cowgirls also played in a tournament in Madras, playing the perennial Class 4A playoff team close. The Cowgirls trailed by just three points heading into the final 30 seconds. Crook County missed a lay-in with a chance to tie and the White Buffalos hit a last-second shot to win by five.

"We were right there," Lea said. "Our girls are excited. Going to team camp, you heard them talking like, 'You know there are teams in our league we can beat this year.' They are thinking that we can be fighting for third or fourth. They are seeing that as a realistic goal."

The team was able to win one game at the Oregon State Team camp despite splitting 14 players into two teams for the camp.

Adding to the optimism about a bright future is that there are expected to be just two seniors on this year's varsity roster. In addition, at least three freshmen are expected to contend for varsity spots.

"I think that this next year will be fun," Lea said.

The Cowgirls finished their summer workouts this past week as they participated in a camp put on by Ryan McCarthy, a former CCHS player and the current head women's coach at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

The camp had 22 players participate, ranging in age from sixth graders through high school.

McCarthy concentrated on fundamentals, spending much of the time working on ball handling drills, as well as drilling shooting technique.

"I think Ryan has been terrific," Lea said. "He has come in the past five years and each time it has grown. This time we have 22 kids out there, so I think that it's important to hear from him about opportunities beyond high school. And doing the things that we do, hearing it from somebody else is huge."

Following Friday's last day of camp, the team is taking a break and won't be back in the gym until the fall.

With the increase in participation in the summer and the improvement that Lea has seen, she is positive about the future.

"It gives them that confidence," she said. "Realistically, I think that we can be fourth this year and then if we can get an upset and play well, we could finish higher. I think it will be a fun year."

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