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Firm of Fryback and Fryback ready to rebuild Millers from the bottom up.

Byline: Curtis Anderson The Register-Guard

SPRINGFIELD - How did this happen?

Only one year removed from the playoffs, and just two seasons after capturing third place at the OSAA Class 4A state tournament, the Springfield girls basketball team hit rock bottom last year.

The Millers finished 2-19 overall and 0-16 in the Midwestern League.

That's three more losses in league than Springfield endured during a memorable five-year stretch from 1997 to 2002 when players like Sarah Hedgepeth, Chelsea Wagner, Talisha Rath, Brieanne Thurn and Lindsey Kirschenmann helped the Millers compile a conference mark of 69-13.

Among Springfield's defeats last season was an 83-10 embarassment against Sheldon that prompted a few angry letters to The Register-Guard in the Sound Off section of the Sunday sports pages.

Travis Fryback thinks he knows what happened, and that's one of the reasons why he agreed to replace Audrea Shelley as the head coach of the Springfield girls basketball team this season.

If the name sounds familiar, it should.

Travis is the 30-year-old son of Jim Fryback, a longtime head coach in boys basketball and baseball at Springfield High School. The elder Fryback also helped develop several of those recent Miller standouts on youth all-star basketball teams.

When Travis Fryback was ready to make a decision on whether to accept the job, he reached out to his father.

`I decided he would be the last person I would call about the job,' Travis Fryback said. `He told me, `If it was me, I'd take it.' I had to laugh at that, because I said, `if I do take the job, you are, too.' '

Thus, the coaching tandem of Fryback and Fryback was born, with father serving as a loyal assistant to son.

`There's only one way to go, and that's up,' Travis Fryback said. `I've always had a sense of pride with Springfield High School, and I think I can help them get girls basketball back on track.'

The first order of business is restoring order to the youth programs.

Springfield was the only Midwestern League school without a freshman team last year, when only six girls showed up for tryouts.

To make matters worse, the Millers have not been able to field a Quad-A team - an eighth-grade all-star team composed of players from each of the middle schools that feed into Springfield - for a long time.

For comparison, Fryback can look crosstown at Thurston High School.

`Thurston has had a real consistent Quad-A program, and they had 48 kids try out for their freshman team last year,' he said. `At Springfield, there hasn't been a lot of development in the youth programs.'

Fryback said Chuck Wenger, who formerly ran the Oregon Magic all-star club, has been tapped to help with the middle schools, and Fryback also has begun communicating with coaches in the elementary schools.

`Those young kids need to see the varsity coach taking an interest in them,' Fryback said.

`We need to get them to our games at the high school so they can see the excitement of the crowd.'

Fryback has also been recruiting the Springfield hallways to find athletes with great attitudes who are willing to work hard.

Those efforts appear to be paying off.

Sophomore McKenzie Mann, a first-team all-league soccer player with little background in basketball, was one of several young athletes willing to give it a shot.

Springfield will carry 30 players on its three teams this year, including 12 freshmen, eight sophomores, five juniors and five seniors.

And no matter how bad it gets for the varsity this season, Fryback is determined to keep the younger players together.

`We are not going to ruin their experience or damage their egos this year,' he said. `They'll play four quarters of freshmen or JV ball, and then sit on the bench and play one more quarter in the varsity games. That's our recipe and it has already started.'

And don't think Fryback has given up on this season despite the fact that four of the top seven players from last year chose not to return, and 11 of his top 20 players are new to Springfield basketball.

`Our expectations for this year's group is to play hard and have fun,' Fryback said.

`If we can take that work ethic into games, that will make us happy as coaches. We're not going to put any pressure on them in terms of wins and losses, we just want them to help develop the attitude that it's something special to be a part of Springfield girls basketball.'

CAPTION(S):

Head coach Travis Fryback and his assistant and father, Jim, discuss strategy with their team.
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Title Annotation:Sports; The son-father coaching combo works to pump up Springfield's youth basketball pipeline
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 7, 2004
Words:772
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