Crook County has a well-earned reputation for volleyball, winning eight consecutive state championships from 2006 to 2013.
But now the Cowgirls are starting to demand attention in basketball.
Crook County, which hasn't had a winning season since 2012, is off to a 10-1 start and is No. 5 in the OSAAtoday 5A coaches poll. The Cowgirls have posted their first-ever wins over Bend, Summit and Ridgeview.
“A lot of it's been convincing them they can do it,” second-year coach Bob Boback said. “We're learning how to win, and we're beating teams that we've never beaten. So our confidence is growing with each game. It's really fun to watch them grow.”
Boback, 65, came out of coaching retirement to take the job at Crook County. In 17 seasons (1998-2015) as the coach at Gig Harbor (Wash.), he won 240 games and led the team to five big-school state tournaments.
After retiring as a waterfront Teamster and moving to central Oregon to be closer to his daughter's family, he took over a program that had not won more than eight games in a season since finishing 14-12 in 2011-12. In his first season with the Cowgirls, without a senior in the starting lineup, the team went a promising 6-8.
“They were much better than what their record showed last season,” Boback said. “We probably should've been 10-4.”
Crook County's attack revolves around junior point guard Katelynn Weaver. The 5-foot-7 Weaver is averaging 16.0 points, 5.0 assists and 6.5 steals.
“She's probably the best point guard I've ever coached for girls,” Boback said. “Just the way she plays, and her leadership, are amazing. Katelynn has the freedom to roam. She picks up a lot of steals because she's just really good at anticipating the passing lanes.”
The Cowgirls have two versatile posts in 5-10 senior Emma Bales, an Intermountain Conference first-team pick last season, and 6-0 senior Grace Brooks. Bales produces 12.5 points and 11.0 rebounds per game and Brooks is averaging 10.0 points.
“I've never had two posts that are both inside-out,” Boback said of Bales and Brooks, both soccer players. “They can both shoot the threes and they can both post-up.”
The starting lineup also includes senior guard McCall Woodward, who was sidelined by an broken ankle last season, and 5-10 junior guard McKenzie Jonas, the IMC player of the year in volleyball.
Boback said Jonas is “probably one of the best athletes I've ever coached. She's been our stopper. She's long and she's competitive. She's fearless.”
Senior Josie Kasberger (5-8), another volleyball player, provides energy off the bench.
“She comes in the game and the intensity goes up about 50 percent,” Boback said. “She does it all. She's all over the court. She gets every loose ball. She's only 5-8, but she plays like she's 6-feet.”
Senior guard Lauren Papke, the team's defensive stopper last season, has been out since suffering a sprained knee in the team's fourth game.
“If we get her back, we'll be seven strong, and with a really good defensive unit,” Boback said. “She's one of the toughest kids I've ever had on my team.”
Crook County has shown that it can win close games. The Cowgirls defeated Lebanon 54-52, Summit 46-42, La Grande 33-29 and Ridgeview 48-44.
“We really brought it to another level in the fourth quarter in games when we had to,” Boback said. “When we've had to match the intensity of the other team, we've done that.”
The win over Ridgeview (8-4) – which went 18-2 in the IMC the last two seasons – in the final of the Sisters Holiday Shootout last week was particularly meaningful for Crook County. Weaver scored 22 points and Bales and Brooks added 11 points apiece for the Cowgirls, who came back after trailing by six points in the third quarter.
Boback said he told his players before the Ridgeview game that he expected them to win.
“I said, 'This is how you've got to think,'” he said. “My team is getting that mentality that we can play with anybody.”