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PREP FOCUS: Tech girls get on-the-job training

Benson standout Chaquinn Cook out with knee injury

Benson High standout athlete Chaquinn Cook survived a scare Wednesday night in the Techsters' girls basketball opener.

Cook, the Class 5A state triple jump champion, injured a knee in her team's home game against McKay.

She had an MRI on Thursday, and tests were negative for any ligament or meniscus damage.

The injury initially was described as a subluxation of the knee cap, and assistant coach Ben Coffee says it may be just a sprain, with more tests to come next week.

"She just took a weird fall, got caught under another player and had an awkward landing," Coffee says. "Everything looked good structurally. She was in a lot of pain, and she's in a brace now. They'll reassess it another week."

Cook, a junior, won PIL 5A district titles last spring in the triple jump, 100-meter hurdles and 4x100 relay, which she anchored. She also placed third in the PIL 5A long jump.

She went 37 feet, 4 inches in the district triple jump finals and had the state's best mark in the event for any level with a leap of 37-11 1/2.

Benson played without Cook in Friday's 54-34 loss at Columbia Christian. Tech also lost 55-32 Wednesday to McKay.

"She's a super athlete, a kind of do-everything gal who plays the wing or the post for us," Coffee says. "She can bring the ball up the court, but we like her in the high post. She's long, athletic, quick and can slash to the basket. Her athleticism forces the defense to move.

"We will miss her while she's out, but it helps the other kids develop."

Coffee, a former Tech hoops standout, and new head coach Eric Knox, a former Oregon State player (1985-89) in the Ralph Miller era, have a lot of work to do in rebuilding the Benson girls program.

Benson was 10-13 overall last season, 6-6 in the PIL 5A — but the new coaches have limited experience and depth on their varsity and JV rosters.

"We're young — no seniors — and the numbers are down, with girls not coming out or quitting," Coffee says. "Our goal for the future and for this year was to have three levels, but we had to cut the freshman team; we just didn't have enough players.

"We were able to suit up only six players at the varsity game, and we practice together, JV and varsity, and treat it as one big unit. We may have to have girls swing up from JV and play three quarters there, two quarters here."

Also, many of the girls in the program have little basketball team experience.

"We only had a couple of weeks with them before first game, and we didn't have enough kids to even have tryouts, so it was, if you show up, you're on the team, congratulations," Coffee says.

"I could fill an entire practice with just skill-building, basic basketball 101, dribble with the ball," he adds. "If you say 'box out,' they look at you like, what does that mean and why is that important?' And we don't have enough girls to scrimmage, and so they're learning a lot in the games. It's one thing to teach about how you come off a screen, but it doesn't resonate until they see it in action."

Coffee graduated from Benson in 1999 and played there for Don Emry, now the boys coach at Cleveland. Tech was second in the state in Coffee's junior year, losing to Nick Robertson's Beaverton Beavers, and then took third in '99, when Jesuit and Mike Dunleavy Jr., won the title.

"We want our girls to believe that there's a rich culture at Benson. And we want them to know that people they don't even know are rooting for them," Coffee says. "Even though the program is not where we want it to be or where it used to be, we want them to take pride in wearing the jersey."

Coffee and Knox came to the Benson girls program in a slightly roundabout way.

"Eric originally contacted me because he had interviewed for the (Benson) boys job," Coffee says.

The hire came down to Knox or Earl Clark, and Clark got the boys job going into this season as Benson's successor to Troy Berry.

"Eric calls me and says, 'I didn't get the job, but there's a twist — there's an opening for the girls job,' " Coffee says. "I said, 'sure, let's go do it.' So now here's two big, macho guys coming in with our vision, two very competitive people.

"Our girls have a lot to learn, but we want to get it to where, when other schools hear the name Benson, it strikes a little anxiety in them."