It’s coach Mike Crawford’s 31st year of coaching Outlaws girls basketball and things are looking good after little more than a week of practice.
Crawford had a massive turnout of 28 players. At the moment he’s carrying 13 on the varsity and the rest on junior varsity. Nine freshmen took the plunge.
“This is an unusual year,” Crawford said. “We have four seniors. We’ve had big numbers, but the numbers have always been in the younger classes, and now those classes are sophomores, juniors and freshmen.” He added that the program fields eight sophomores and seven juniors.
Crawford said that he feels good about his veterans, but he still needs to take time to develop his younger players. The freshmen and sophomores will compose the bulk of the JV squad.
The squad lost three seniors to graduation, in addition to one player who transferred and one who isn’t playing this year. Happily two seniors are returning who missed most of last season due to injury: Kaylie Melville and Gracie Niezen.
The coach is clearly in command on the floor. When he addresses them, action stops. The players are attentive down to the last player. Commands quickly turn into action. The team already looks quite sharp.
Crawford sees the team’s strengths as size and speed and said the team harbors athletes across the board. More important is experience — particularly at the state playoff level, where the ladies made inroads last year.
League competition is tough with arch-nemesis Grant Union, which took first in the league last year. Heppner, eventual state champs, took second and Enterprise ended up in third. All three teams made it into the final eight last year in state playoffs. Crawford also named Union as a possible contender.
“We think we should be able to go back,” he said. “We have enough players and the experience to do it, that we should be able to compete. The difference between where we were and where we are is not that great.”
The coach said that with only a little over a week of practice in, it’s hard to tell the differences between the squad of this year and last year. He did offer an observation, however, that came in the form of a challenge.
“It is going to be a little different, and it’s going to have a different complexion,” he said. “The three girls we lost were significant and very good players. Someone has to step up and take their role.”
Outlaws fans can expect to see a team tough on defense and a team that pushes the tempo, which should prove exciting for fans to watch. Still, it all comes down to game day.
“It’s going to come down to how we play,” he said. “We’re going to be tough for other teams to match up to — I know that.”
The ladies travel down to meet the Wallowa Cougars today at 5 p.m., in their first match-up.