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PREP FOCUS: Columbia Christian girls stay competitive

With a changing of the guard and good team play, the Columbia Christian Knights are in contention again in the Class 1A girls basketball ranks.

The Northeast Portland-based Knights (6-5 overall) will take a three-game winning streak back into Valley 10 League play Friday, when they play host to Southwest Christian.

"It's a good group of girls," says fourth-year coach Charles McKinney, the former Wilson High star and 1991-93 Oregon State Beavers guard.

The Knights are hoping to make it back to the eight-team state tournament in Baker City, where they took fourth in 2011.

They are still without McKinney's daughter, guard Sierra McKinney, who has an injured left knee and an uncertain status.

McKinney, a senior, went down in practice after the team's season-opening, 54-34 victory against Benson. The knee has given her trouble over the years but never required surgery. Coach McKinney says they will get an MRI and assess which direction to go with Sierra. If it's a partial ACL tear, she might be able to play some this season. If it's more than that, she would be facing surgery.

In her place, freshman Libby Cross has stepped up and produced for the Knights.

Cross drained a 3-pointer as time ran out last Tuesday to give Columbia Christian a 35-32 league win at home over Portland Lutheran.

This season, Cross is averaging about 19 points, 6 assists and 3 steals. That includes a 30-point explosion against Madison, which trimmed the Knights 60-53 on Jan. 4 at Madison.

"She's been phenomenal, a force to be reckoned with," McKinney says. "She's the engine that makes us tick. She unbelievably quick and has good basketball IQ and instincts."

Cross, who came from Beverly Cleary school in Northeast Portland, has played club basketball with Team Concept.

She frequently hooks up as a Knight with post Jira Hammond, a 5-11 junior who made the all-league honorable mention last season. Hammond is averaging close to a double-double this season.

Columbia Christian has losses to City Christian and Damascus Christian, but will get a rematch with both teams — Jan. 28 at Damascus Christian and Jan. 31 at home against City Christian.

"We were down by only two at halftime against City," McKinney says.

City Christian made it to the final eight in state a year ago and has added Madison-area guard Cecilia Vong, a senior who is home-schooled and previously played for the Senators.

The top three finishers in the Valley 10 League earn spots in the state playoffs.

"I think it's going to come down to the three of us," McKinney says.