ONCE TEAMMATES, STILL FRIENDS
By Pierre LaBossire
Observer Staff Writer
Oregon Tech's Lindsey Carmichael and Eastern Oregon's Christie Weaver insisted that their game Saturday was about Tech vs. Eastern with first place on the line, not about the two of them.
"This is for the league championship right now. After last night's loss (to Albertson), it's important for our team to play well and forget about the community expectations," said Carmichael before Tech's match-up with Eastern.
"The town's making a huge deal about it," said Weaver.
Who could blame the town for getting excited about this match-up?
Carmichael and Weaver were teammates at La Grande High School and went through both good and bad times together.
They helped lead the Tigers to the Class 3A girls' state runner-up trophy in 2002 as juniors. After they graduated in 2003, Carmichael went to OIT and Weaver enrolled at Eastern.
They are both contributing freshmen on good teams. OIT had been ranked in the NAIA top 25 all season, though it's likely the Hustlin' Owls will drop out of the rankings after a rough two-game road stretch this weekend.
Eastern, meanwhile has a sterling 13-2 won-loss record and has a solid shot at those same rankings this week.
The duo still stay in touch by phone a couple of times a week. Weaver, who had a basketball scholarship available to Boise State, but decided to attend Eastern, said there are still plenty of days in La Grande that, "I see something that reminds me of her."
Before the game, Weaver didn't think they would end up guarding each other much, but Carmichael did. Carmichael ended up being right, as the two former teammates shadowed each other most of the time when they were both on the floor.
Weaver had the upper hand Saturday. She hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored 13 points in her best game of her freshman season. Carmichael hit a 3-pointer, and Eastern walked away a 71-53 victor to take sole possession of first place in the Cascade Collegiate Conference.
While Carmichael's Hustlin' Owls had a rough night in her return to La Grande, she has had a great freshman year.
Carmichael has had two games this season in double figures, scoring 12 points against San Jose Christian and 15 against Notre Dame de Namur. She was, for a time, the leading 3-point percentage shooter in the conference.
Her freshmen success is that much more special because Carmichael is coming back from a severe knee injury. She missed most of her senior season at La Grande due to a torn ACL.
Before that devastating injury, the Tigers had been ranked No. 1 in the state and were looking like a solid favorite to win the state title. All of the La Grande girls sported a tattoo on their calves of Carmichael's No. 15 for the remainder of the season. Without their all-league point guard, La Grande struggled at first.
But, they got stronger heading into the state tournament as they learned to take care of the ball without Carmichael's steady hand. Once they got to the tournament, they suffered a tough loss in the opening game of the state tournament to a lightning quick team from Madras which eventually won the state championship.
Carmichael said it was a long, painful rehab after surgery. Some of the worst pain wasn't being able to play anymore, and watching her teammates struggle against Madras. She wanted so badly to be out there with them, doing whatever she could to help the Tigers win.
"I'd get teary-eyed every game during warm-ups. It was torture not being able to play with my friends," she said.
Weaver said Carmichael's injury was hard on her and her teammates as well.
"A lot of what we went through wasn't basketball related. Emotionally, it was a whole breakdown for me. I didn't get to play with my best friend ever again," she said.
Carmichael, also an all-league soccer star for La Grande High School, said the knee is doing well physically. She doesn't have full mobility in the joint yet, but it isn't giving her any pain.
Carmichael and Weaver said they have experienced huge differences between college and high school basketball.
"There's a lot more maturity in college," said Weaver. While in high school, players might get caught up in personal conflicts. In college, players are better at working these conflicts out and deciding to play together as a team.
Carmichael also said the expectations are higher in college. She learned right away there are players on the bench just as good as her if she blows an assignment.
"In high school, if I made a mistake, it was OK. In college, you get pulled out of the game," she said.
Carmichael decided to attend OIT after going to Klamath Falls, meeting some of her future teammates and meeting the coach Tom Loney.
"It seemed like a good fit," she said.