AMBOY – Amboy Girls Varsity Basketball Head Coach Mike McCracken walked into the gym for a recent practice wearing a t-shirt that read, “Create Your Own Legacy.” After 52 years as a coach, the last 16 with the Lady Clippers, his footprint is firmly cemented. Now he hopes, with the help of his coaching staff, to help this season’s side write their own history.
“A lot of times my players aren’t aware of the traditions and memories they create during the game and I like to make them aware of that,” he said. “I hope it gives them a little extra motivation.”
With the upcoming campaign about to kick off in the Northwest Upstate Illini South Conference, McCracken and his staff, led by his daughter Shauna, who has been by his side for 15 years, are helping to mold a very young team that one features seniors, two juniors, five sophomores and seven freshmen. Despite the return of three starters from last season’s 10-2 and 23-9 overall records that left them a game behind Eastland for the title, there is still some uncertainty about depth.
“We’re going to start two sophomores out of necessity,” McCracken explained. “We’re six deep at the moment but would like to have seven to nine ready to come off the bench and contribute.”
McCracken is counting on his lone senior, 6-foot post player Courtney Ortgiesen to deliver lead, more goals and inside rebounds to fill the void left Graduating Star Forward Olivia Dinges. So far, Ortgiesen has risen to the challenge.
“I’ve been working on my shooting and inside post moves to be in a good position for rebounds and second chance shots,” she explained. “I’m trying to help the younger players with their confidence in knowing when to shoot and when to pass. It can be a bit nerve wracking at times but it should serve us well throughout the season.”
Junior point guard 5’8 Elly Jones will lead the offense for the second straight year and will be joined on the Clipper’s three-guard offense by sophomores 5’9 Tyrah Vaessen and 5’8 Addison Pertell, who McCracken was pleased with recorded fitting. Return to the front 5’10 Maeve Larson completes the starting five. Emily Sachs, a strong 6’1 center sophomore, will be the first player off the bench. McCracken thinks the team’s strengths lie in decent team speed and a solid 2-3 defense, although he’s not afraid to play man-to-man when necessary.
“We work on our defense quite a bit and prefer to play zone to avoid trouble,” he said.
Defending champions Eastland are always tough opponents, but McCracken says he has realistic expectations.
“With a young team we can sometimes look smooth and rough around the edges,” he said. “We’re going to play to our inexperience and if our shooting rates improve then we should be at the top fighting for a conference title and beyond.”