Cougars have two away games this week before an eght-day break for the holidays

PIONEER PHOTO: CONNER WILLIAMS - Country Christian freshman Howie Long (22) maneuvers through two Western Mennonite defenders during jamboree play earlier this season. 
The Country Christian boys' basketball team has seen a bit of a rough start to their preseason that is packed with tough matchups, but head coach Doug Nofziger is hoping their early challenges will turn into successes later in the season.

"The first four games we played out of the gate this season were against, I would say, top 20 teams in the state, and we are not in that category yet," Nofziger said. "I'm still trying to decide if that was a good idea to play top-notch teams right out of the gate rather than some teams that were more compatible, but it sure showed us where we need to improve."

The Cougars started off with two away games at the current no. 9 and no. 4 ranked teams, Powder Valley and Jordan Valley, and came away knowing they had plenty to work on.

"The only downside to that schedule has, for some of the younger guys, thrown their confidence off," Nofziger said. "We're trying to work on that, but it's kind of a mind-over-matter deal; this group of guys that we have are not used to being in competitive games and competing at a higher level, so it's one of those things where you're teaching them the fundamentals of the game but also trying to change their mindset a bit. It's a challenge, but I think it's a good challenge, and I think it's going to help the boys when we get to our league games and start playing teams a little more equal to where we're at talent-wise, and maybe it'll pay off in the end."

Country Christian has eight days off after their game at South Wasco County this Thursday, which they'll take to be with their families and work on some more individual-oriented aspects at their practices. Nofziger said the ability for players to see themselves on film has been a huge learning opportunity, since seeing and hearing about your game are two very different things.

"The boys need to be strong with the ball, offensively we're still soft, and I would say that's more mental rather than physical," Nofziger said. "Right now, turnovers are killing us, the boys realize that, they've just got to be focused and put their mind to it and get over that barrier, but I see glimpses here and there that I think some of them are starting to turn the corner a little bit, especially from some of the sophomores and freshmen."

Nofziger said they've still got aspirations to be competitive in the Valley 10 and make some noise in the playoffs.

"Our goals aren't shattered yet … but I think we're taking baby steps right now, and hopefully they're confidence hasn't been totally destroyed, but we've got two tough games this week that will be very challenging for us, and then we get into league play shortly after that, and we're going to try and keep their spirits up so that when we meet some teams in our league, we're still fighting for a playoff spot," Nofziger said.

Up next, the Cougars will travel to Perrydale on Dec. 19 to take on the Pirates at 7:30 p.m., and will then play at South Wasco County on Thursday at 5:30 p.m.

Conner Williams
Sports Reporter/News Contributor
503-829-2301 ext. 341
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