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Intermountain Conference league returns much of its top talent from last season

LON AUSTIN - Emna Bales, left, goes up for a shot in practice against Josie Kasberger. The pair are just two of the many varsity-experienced players that coach Bob Boback will be counting on this winter. The Cowgirls finished third in last spring's short season, but the teams that finished ahead of them, Pendleton and Ridgeview, are just as experienced.

The Crook County High School girls basketball team has an opportunity to do some big things this year.

"I think it has been great," head coach Bob Boback said of how practice has been going. "We are just going to keep the momentum. We came in third place and we are going to keep the momentum from last year. We are all getting better and I'm very excited to see how this team does."

However, that doesn't mean that things are going to be easy. Crook County returns all five starters off of a team that placed third in the Intermountain Conference last Spring. However, the Cowgirls lost three players to graduation, more than either of the two teams who finished ahead of the Cowgirls in the spring.

The Cowgirls finished last year with a 6-4 league record, while Ridgeview and Pendleton each finished with 9-1 records with Ridgeview winning the league tournament.

"Our league is going to be tough again, because the two teams that were ahead of us only lost like one player each," Boback said. "We know that we are going to be better, but they are going to be better too, so our games against Ridgeview and Pendleton are going to be the difference makers."

Boback said that the strength of this year's team should be post players Grace Brooks and Emma Bales and point guard Katelynn Weaver.

"I think our strength is our two post players can go inside and out, and Katelynn Weaver, I wouldn't trade her for any guard in the league," he said.

Perhaps more importantly, the team also has several other players with plenty of varsity experience.

"We've got kids that play great defense, so everybody does their role and does it pretty well," Boback said. "We have enough depth that we can use the next man up theory. So, if someone is not here, the blessing of it is somebody else is getting that much time doing the same thing."

That depth may be important early as Boback noted that several players are missing practice due to family vacations.

Boback said he is putting in a lot of offensive and defensive work in these early practices, but many athletes are missing due to vacations.

"It makes it very difficult for the first game, but hopefully our athleticism and our effort will keep us in there. But it's going to be hard to get everything in there. We have 13 or 14 games before our first league game, so hopefully we will have time to get everything in by the time that league starts. But I imagine that, the first couple of games, it will be very interesting to see what we can do and how fast we get things put in."

Although the Cowgirls have a great deal of experience, there is a shortage of players in the program as just 24 athletes turned out for the team. As a result, Crook County will have just two teams this year instead of the usual three.

That may cost the team down the road, but Boback is confident that it won't cause any problems this season.

In addition to Bales, Brooks and Weaver, seniors Lauren Papke, McCall Woodward and Josie Kasberger, along with juniors McKenzie Jonas and Abby Barker, all have at least two years of varsity experience.

Along with that experience comes great team leadership.

"I think the leadership is great," Boback said. "I think it's pretty good across the board."

The Cowgirls open the season on Wednesday at McMinnville. The team returns to compete in the Central Oregon Tip-Off Classic, to be held at Ridgeview on Friday and Saturday.

The Cowgirls will open the tournament with a 4 p.m. game against Lebanon at Ridgeview. Games between Bend Senior High and Ridgeview and Crescent Valley and Pendleton will follow.

On Saturday, Pendleton will play Lebanon at 11 a.m. with Crook County taking on Bend Senior High at 1 p.m. and Crescent Valley playing Ridgeview at 3 p.m.

The Cowgirls are on the road again on Wednesday when they take on Sisters in a 7 p.m. contest.

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