Coming off a state 1A title game appearance last season, despite some key losses, the Country Christian girls basketball team may be gearing up for another deep run in the playoffs.
At least that's the vibe head coach Russel Halverson gives off as he looks up and down a roster that has plenty of experience and talent, as well as some youngsters ready to step into bigger roles.
"We graduated two starters off last year's team, but overall we rotated about seven-and-a-half deep, so our starting five and first one off the bench are experienced," Halverson said.
The Cougars return its top two scorers in senior Elizabeth Grandle and junior Annie Bafford, as well as its point guard Lanie Barden, another senior. Two players who came off the bench a year ago will step into the starting lineup — seniors McKenzie Syphard and Lilly Begley. They'll be joined off the bench by post player Evelyn Krieck, who saw some time a year ago.
"Those top six kids are interchangeable, which gives me a lot of flexibility," Halverson said.
Adding to the bench strength will be sophomore Lilly Garfield, a 5-foot-11 post with a 6-1 wingspan. She's long and athletic, according to Halverson, who added, "she's green in the skill department, but really learning fast."
Another sophomore that will see time is sophomore guard Elise Doyle, who is an intriguing addition.
"She's primarily a soccer kid, but is picking things up really fast," Halvorsen said. "I'm excited about her. We've got another five kids who are going to be JV/varsity swingers and all, in their own ways, are close. It's very encouraging for the future."
Country Christian runs a pretty impressive preseason gantlet. They defeated last season's third-place 4A team Valley Catholic by a 55-35 count on Dec. 3, then host preseason Nos. 2 and 3 in Class 2A in Gervais and Central Linn on Dec. 6 and 9. They also battle Salem Academy on Dec. 20, the top-ranked team in 2A.
"Coming off of last year, we have some big losses to fill, but I also think the way we rotated last year, everyone got experience," Halverson said. "I like our chances this year. I think we're a legitimate contender again this year. I like the pieces, and it's fun to have such experience back."
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