With a new arrangement of players, Country Christian aims to compete with the best in the Valley-10

PIONEER PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - Country Christian freshman Lizzy Grandle led the team in the season opener against Molalla with 7 points.

Coach: Russ Halverson

2017-18: 26-4

Key losses: Mollie Lewandowski, Anna Farner, Sierra Ross, Debby Grandle, Meghan McGrath

Key returners: Sarah Phillips, Katie Sandberg, Kendall Halverson

Outlook: Like the volleyball team before it, Country Christian's girls' basketball team will be looking to build up after graduating an incredibly strong senior class. With graduated seniors Mollie Lewandowski, Anna Farner, Sierra Ross, Debby Grandle, and Meghan McGrath off to greener pastures, a new class of athletes will step up to assume the mantel of leadership.

Captains include senior forward Sarah Phillips, senior wing Kendall Halverson, senior Katie Sandberg, and freshman point guard Lizzy Grandle. Phillips was a first team all-league and all-state honoree, and Sandberg was an all-league honoree as well as all-defensive team. The captains will be joined by talented sophomores Allison Burruel, Madison Halverson, Bella Huffstetler, and Lizzy Shelton, as well as a promising group of freshmen Elizabeth Grandle, McKenzie Syphard, Emma Parmalee, and "possibly" Lilly Begley.

"One of those freshman will be a big contributor right away with several others that will be a factor in what we do this year come end of the season," head coach Russ Halverson said. "But they are young and there's lots of work to do. I believe we will be a ten times better ball club by the end of the year then what we are to start with because we have so much youth."

Unlike the Cougars, most of the other opposition in the Valley-10 League will be returning a healthy amount of their veteran players. Expect teams like Damascus Christian, North Clackamas Christian, and Southwest Christian to be in the running for the league title. While they may be a much different squad, Country Christian will also be in the hunt also.

The Cougars road to the top may hit some bumps early as the team gets used to working with new personnel, but Halverson expects things to come together late.

"We may lose some games early, but if we can stay mentally tough I like our chances for battling at the top of league come district tournament time," Halverson said. "We believe the two primary keys to our success are that our more experienced players will need to look past themselves and their individual challenges to lead these youngsters and not rest on the laurels of past accomplishments but instead focus on this year, this team. Second is for our youngsters to really work, grow, stay focused, stay hungry and battle through the mental challenges they'll face playing varsity and being coached like varsity kids, as well as not thinking about what it will be like when they're older, but focusing on what we can accomplish now."

After playing extensively during the summer, Halverson is confident his team has found a groove within which to play well. While other teams may not view the team as it was last year, the successful coach of the program believes that will be to the Cougars benefit.

"Us coaches are really looking forward to this team," Halverson said. "One of the primarily reasons is because at our level most of the teams in state are breathing a sigh of relief seeing that powerful dominant group of seniors we had, who played in four straight state title games, graduate. Most of those teams expect us to be in rebuilding mode and drop off the map, but we know better."

"We've seen enough from this team to know that we're still going to be a very strong 1A team with potential for a deep playoff run depending on how hard we work and how well we grow/meld together."

First Game: Nov. 29 @ Molalla, 8:00p, Loss 63-21

It was a tough season opener for the Cougars, as they struggled to generate much offense against Molalla. Freshman Lizzy Grandle led the team with 7 points in the contest. The Cougars will have a chance to rebound against league foe Damascus Christian on Tuesday, Dec. 4 in a home matchup.

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