When Casey Williams took over as Sprague girls basketball coach in 2014, the program was a mess. The Olys were coming off a 6-20 season in which they finished winless in the old Central Valley Conference regular season at 0-10. Sprageu finished that 2013-14 season with an OSAA ranking of No. 43, worst in all of Class 6A.
Williams' task was monumental.
“We really just had to establish our system and our program. My first year, it was a rough year. By the end of the season, we were starting four freshmen. Those girls are all juniors now,” said Williams, whose team went 4-19 overall in 2014-15. “That’s been the biggest thing is the kids. We’ve had some really good kids that are committed to our program and committed to what we’re doing.”
Williams has had to sell the program to Sprague students in order to boost participation and build the program. “A lot of recruiting in the hallways,” Williams said.
What was his recruiting message?
“That things are changing, that we’re getting better. We’re working harder, things are more organized,” he said. “That message of just come out, work hard, it’s going to be different. And really the girls out here are my best recruiters.”
After a 10-win season last year, Sprague continues its rebuild this season with a 4-7 overall record. The Olympians have lost four in a row and have an OSAA ranking of No. 37 out of 50 Class 6A programs. It’s a step up from where they were a couple years ago, but the rebuilding process continues.
A big part of the rebuild has been junior Natalie Bock, a team captain.
“My first year here, she was so small and so unassuming that she was a JV-varsity swing player,” Williams said. “And I think within about five games, she was starting varsity. She’s just got that kind of work ethic. For the last three years, she’s the first one in the gym.
“She’s always working on her game,” Williams added. “She’s the one in the offseason that does the most to get better. She’s a gym rat, and you have to have that if you’re going to have any success in a basketball program.”
Bock said she has a clear message for girls who are thinking of joining the basketball program. “We’ve all talked to people, and not only do you get better in practice, but you also make friends,” she said. “And it’s just a new experience that we get to experience together.”
Growing up, Bock dreamed of playing on the Sprague girls basketball team, like her older sisters, Katie and Jessica. “My goal is to be better than my sisters,” Bock said with a smile. Is she better than her older sisters? “No. There’s still a lot of improving.”
The Oregonian reported earlier this month that Oregon State women’s basketball coach Scott Rueck likes to recruit players who grew up with older siblings because of how tough and physical they play. Bock said she sees some truth in that.
“Yes. I would always get picked on as the little sister,” she said. “And so as the younger sister, having them practice with me pushes me more than anybody else pushes me.”
Bock, who is averaging 12.9 points and five rebounds per game this season, said communication and teamwork have been key for the Olys’ rebuild.
“We all communicate with each other, and we push each other in practices,” Bock said. “That’s what makes us improve because each and every practice we get better. Every practice, our motivation is to be better than the last one. And so that’s our motivation to get better.”
What are the goals for the Olys this season?
“We want to make sure we’re one of the top-four teams in the GVC,” Bock said. “We still need to rely more on each other, and trust each other more.”