WINTER SPORTS PREVIEW: Create your legacy

AMBOY — Amboy Girls Varsity Basketball Head Coach Mike McCracken walked into the gym at a recent practice wearing a tee-shirt that said ‘create your own legacy.’ After 52 years coaching, the last 16 for the Lady Clippers, his footprint has been firmly cemented. Now, with the help of his coaching staff, he hopes to guide this season’s squad to make their own history. 

“Often times my players don’t realize the traditions and memories that they are creating while they are playing and I like to make them aware of that,” he said. “I hope that it gives them a little extra motivation.”

With the upcoming campaign nearly ready to tip-off in the Northwest Upstate Illini South Conference, McCracken and his staff led by his daughter Shauna, who has by his side for the last 15 years, are helping to mold a very young team that features one senior, two juniors, five sophomores, and seven freshmen. Despite returning three starters from last season’s 10-2 and 23-9 overall records, which left them one game short of a title to Eastland, there is still some uncertainty about depth. 

“We are going to start two sophomores out of necessity,” explained McCracken. “We are 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 provide leadership, more scoring, and rebounding inside to help fill the void left by  graduating star forward Olivia Dinges. So far, Ortgiesen has been up to the challenge.  

“I’ve been working on my shooting and inside post moves to be in good position for rebounds and second chance shots,” she explained. “I’m trying to help the younger players with their confidence to know when to shoot or pass. It can be a little nerve wracking at times, but it should benefit us throughout the season.”  

Junior point guard 5’8 Elly Jones will run the offense for the second straight year and will be joined in the Clipper’s three guard offense by sophomores 5’9 Tyrah Vaessen and 5’8 Addison Pertell, who McCracken has been happy with how they are fitting in. Returning forward 5’10 Maeve Larson completes the starting five. Emily Sachs, a strong 6’1 sophomore center, will be the first player off the bench. McCracken feels that the team’s strengths are decent team speed and a solid 2-3 defense, although he isn’t afraid to play man to man if necessary. 

“We work on our defense quite a bit and prefer to play zone to stay out of foul trouble,” he said.

 Defending conference champion Eastland always is a tough opponent but according to McCracken he has realistic expectations. 

“With a young team we can look smooth at times and also rough around the edges,” he said. “We will play through our inexperience and if our shooting percentages improve we should be near the top and competing for a conference title and beyond.”