Think Out Loud

Tiny Crane high school in Eastern Oregon keeps winning state basketball championships

By Sheraz Sadiq (OPB)
April 9, 2024 1 p.m.

Broadcast: Tuesday, April 9

On March 2, 2024, the girls basketball team at Crane Union High School won the 1A state championship game held at Baker City. Members of the team are shown in this photo posing with a crowd of supporters as they point at the scoreboard displaying their 20-point victory over North Douglas. It is the fourth state title the Crane girls basketball team has won in the past five years.

On March 2, 2024, the girls basketball team at Crane Union High School won the 1A state championship game held at Baker City. Members of the team are shown in this photo posing with a crowd of supporters as they point at the scoreboard displaying their 20-point victory over North Douglas. It is the fourth state title the Crane girls basketball team has won in the past five years.

Debbie Raney


Last month, the girls and boys basketball teams at Crane Union High School in Eastern Oregon won state championship titles at the Oregon School Activities Association 1A tournament in Baker City. The smallest schools in the state compete in this division, including Crane, which is located in Harney County and currently has 84 students. It’s the third consecutive state title for the boys basketball team, and the fourth state title in the past five years for the girls team, which ended its season undefeated. Joining us to talk about Crane’s dominance in the sport are Eric Nichols, the boys basketball coach and principal of Crane Union High School, and Kortney Doman and Kaitlyn Siegner, co-captains of the girls basketball team.

Note: The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: From the Gert Boyle Studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud. I’m Dave Miller. We turn now to two tiny but mighty dynasties in Harney County. Last month, the girls and boys basketball teams at Crane Union High School each won the 1A State Championships. It was the third consecutive state title for the boys team and the fourth title in the last five years for the girls, who played 30 games this season and won every single one. Kortney Doman and Kaitlyn Siegner, a senior and a freshman, respectively, were the co-captains of the girls team. Eric Nichols is the coach of the boys team and the principal of Crane Union High School. All three join me now. Congratulations and welcome to Think Out Loud.

Eric Nichols: Hey, thanks for having us.

Kortney Doman: Thank you.

Kaitlyn Siegner: Thank you.

Miller: Kortney, first. I want to go back quickly to last year when your team lost by just two points in the championship game. What do you most remember from that game?

Doman: I’d say just the last few minutes of the game, being behind and the losing, getting second place, was really disappointing.

Miller: So you knew, at a certain point, it was clear to you that you were going to come in second?

Doman: Well, not really because the game isn’t over until the clock says 00:00. So we were pushing through. And we never gave up but just when the buzzer went off and we were behind, it wasn’t a good feeling.

Miller: How much was that on your mind throughout this year, that feeling and coming so close?

Doman: I’d say the whole season. It’s the worst feeling ever and I did not want to feel it again. So it really pushed me to work hard because I wasn’t going to let that happen again.

Miller: So given that, what did it mean to you to win again this year?

Doman: Awww, it meant everything just to get that redemption of being in the championship game again. And just being able to win this time was amazing.

Miller: Eric Nichols, what was going through your mind in the final seconds of this year’s championship game, when it was clear to you that you were going to three-peat, three in a row?

Nichols: That’s a tough question. There’s so much that goes through your mind in a basketball game that…the game is fast. It’s back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. But as that clock winds down, your thoughts are on everything from, “Hey, we want to make sure we represent ourselves in the appropriate way, in a sportsmanlike manner,” to wanting to make sure your team is behaving appropriately. But honestly, [it felt like] a little bit of jubilation, but a release of pressure. It’s, “Oh thank goodness, so happy for these kids.” But there’s a little bit of pressure with repeating and then repeating again. And so you’re just happy for the kids that that pressure can be relieved from them.

Miller: That’s an interesting way to think about it. It also sounds complicated. Happy for them that the pressure is off them, that they achieved what they wanted to, what you helped them sort of push towards. But in the end, it’s them on the court. So relief for them.

Nichols: Yeah.

Miller: Was there a particular moment that really stood out to you in the game that you most remember, aside from the buzzer going off at the end?

Nichols: The buzzer is always that good feeling. But, honestly, because we are with these kids so much in these small schools it’s really a family, boys and girls together. And you’re hanging out with the majority of these kids from the time that they’re preschool even. You’re seeing them running on the court on some occasions, and they’re at all the basketball games, and the concerts, and the community events. So with that said, it all goes together right from the time they’re in kindergarten to the time they graduate, and even after. When you sign up for Crane Schools, you sign up for the wedding invitations, the baby announcements, the birthdays, all that stuff. It’s not just school, it’s a community.

But I can say, during the game, there’s a moment where we had some trials and tribulations. In that game, our big man, Kaitlyn’s older brother, got in foul trouble, and he’s a big cog for us. But when one of our players, one of our seniors, came over and he’s like, “Hey we got this.” That was actually in the first quarter. Because we’ve been here before. Those are big statements and you’re like, “Oh, we do have this.” That confidence was just seeping from our players at that point. It was OK that Cody, our big man, was out. Next man up. Because of that tight community, it was a good feeling and I felt we had a really good chance at that point.

Miller: Kaitlyn, I mentioned at the beginning that you are a freshman, also though one of the co-captains of the team. What did it mean to you at the beginning of the season to be named one of the leaders of the team?

Siegner: Oh, it meant quite a bit to me and I was just happy to be able to help Kortney lead our team this year. And doing it by Kortney’s side is even better. It just made me feel good. And I felt confident, in me and Kortney and our whole team, to do it together. And it worked out.

Miller: Kaitlyn, what do you see as the duties of being a co-captain? What did you have to do?

Siegner: On the court, you’ve always gotta have good sportsmanship and respect your team and the other team and the coaches and everyone there. Leadership. Lead by example. And be kind and hope that your teammates do the same.

Miller: Kortney, I want to listen to a call from near the end of your championship game. This was streamed on the NFHS Network. We’re going to hear play-by-play announcer, Mark Hauser:

NFHS recording: Doman, high left side, up top, away to Kendal Nichols. Cara Goss-Bodily has it. That’s a hyphenated last name by the way. Kortney Doman leans to the basket, all the way, drives and scores. That could be a nice way for the senior to close out a splendid career for the Mustangs. Under 40 seconds to go, Crane by 20…

Miller: “Closing out a splendid career” there, in the words of the announcer. What was it like? Knowing that this was win or lose, obviously a big win, but this was going to be your last high school basketball game?

Doman: It was crazy. It was a fun game and just to be able to go out with a championship was awesome. But knowing that it was my last game was kind of sad. I wasn’t going to play with my teammates anymore or with the coaches. It was pretty sad and unreal.


Miller: The coach of the girls basketball team is also your mom who, I understand, has coached you for years now. What’s that been like?

Doman: It’s been pretty awesome. It’s fun. Being able to have her on the court with me and just being able to coach me and push me to work harder and become a better athlete has always been fun. And she’s been with me since elementary school, middle school, high school. And even if she’s not necessarily on the bench, she’s always coaching me from home and is always helping me because she wants me to be the best I can be. And I’m very grateful for that.

Miller: Coach Nichols, let’s listen to another call. This is from the boys championship game, the team that you coach again. We’ll hear play-by-play announcer Mark Hauser:

NFHS recording: Eight seconds in the quarter, into the front court. Nichols drives, left side of the lane, shovels it up, and misses. Siegner puts it back up at the buzzer. Cody Siegner, with a bucket to close the half, for the third quarter. We have played three periods here in Baker City, state championship on the line…

Miller: We hear, there, one player actually, I guess Kaitlyn’s brother, picking up another from a missed shot. And that other is your son, Carter, a senior on the team. What’s it like to coach your own kid? How do you navigate that as a coach?

Nichols: Well, that kid, who lives at my house, needed to go off two feet right there and then Cody wouldn’t have had to pick up his miss. But no, great, awesome play there, penetrating to the basket, drawing on the help side, and letting Cody get that offensive rebound. But I’ll tell you what. It’s a tough thing to do, coach your kid. But Carter and I have been doing it for a long time and, like Kortney said, it’s fun. It does come with some additional responsibility, but one thing that Carter and I have been able to do is, Coach Nichols and Player Nichols do our best to turn it off when we leave the gymnasium.

Do we talk about some things? Sure. But usually I try to have the player bring that up, have my son bring it up, rather than myself, bringing it up. And so [we] try to separate that as best we can. And does he get held to a little bit of a higher standard? Yeah, he probably does. But he’s just one of the guys and a pretty special group of kids. But we also have that conversation internally. We have that conversation with the players to ensure that everybody knows, yeah he lives at my house but he’s just one of the guys.

Miller: Baker City, where both of these championship games were held, it’s more than three hours by car away from Crane. How many folks do you think made the trip from anywhere in Harney County? We can talk in a bit about actually what Crane Union High School is. It’s been a long time since we talked about the specifics on this show. But how many folks who cheer on Crane went up to Baker for the game, do you think?

Nichols: Well, if we look at the electrical records, there probably wasn’t a lot of electricity [used] because everybody turned the lights out. And probably the last person that left did turn the last light out. Like everybody was there, man.

Miller: Harney County was empty?

Nichols: You probably could have taken a better census count at Baker City than you would have gotten in Crane that day.

Miller: Well, let’s talk briefly about what Crane Union is. Back in 2013 we did a whole show from the high school. A super fun time and we learned about this pretty unique model. A public boarding school that takes kids from an area that’s bigger than a number of east coast states, put together. Can you just remind us briefly what Crane Union High School is?

Nichols: So Crane Union School District is just under 10,000 square miles, which is bigger than seven states. It encompasses a good chunk of Harney County, basically everywhere but the town of Burns. Crane Union High School, and the key word there is “union”, is a 9-12 School District that has seven K-8 School Districts that feed into it. So the town of Fields, which is a rock’s throw from Nevada about two hours away drive time, the town of Riley, the town of Drewsey, Frenchglen, Diamond. These little places on a map or these K-8 schools. Think of “Little House on the Prairie.” What you saw there feeds into Crane Union High School. A lot of those students, because of the drive time, stay in a dormitory. Girls are upstairs, boys are downstairs. We’ve got a matron and a patron that act like mom and dad.

Miller: And they live in the teacherage, right?

Nichols: So they live with the kids in the dormitory. We do have several teachers that do live in a teacherage here. But yeah, that’s one of the ways we get staff here is to help provide them housing, because of our rural location.

Miller: Kaitlyn, back to you. So we mentioned your brother who Coach Nichols calls “the big man” is what, 6′7″ or something, as a junior. What has it been like for the two of you to be on championship teams at the same time and to be able to cheer each other on?

Doman: It’s pretty special. Me and Cody and our other sister too have always played against each other at home. And then watching each other grow up and play with their teams and be successful is pretty special and exciting.

Miller: Let’s listen to one more clip. Kaitlyn, this involves you. This is from your championship game:

NFHS recording: Left wing, Emily Clark. She penetrates with a dribble, kicks it right wing. Doman up top. Siegner. Another 3. Unbelievable. A freshman. Wow. Kaitlyn Siegner has 29 points.

Miller: Kaitlyn, I understand that you came to Portland a week and a half ago to watch some of the Women’s Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games that were at the Moda Center. What was that experience like for you?

Siegner: It was amazing. My whole life, I’ve always watched on TV. And it’s always exciting on TV. But being there in real life is just a whole new experience. You get to see the crowd and see how fans act in bigger situations than ours. And it’s pretty exciting. Makes me want to be there.

Miller: Kortney, the current generation of players, especially folks like Caitlin Clark or Angel Reese, have taken public awareness and viewership of women’s college basketball to new levels, in incredible ways. There’s never been public interest in women’s basketball like there has been in the last couple of weeks. What has that meant to you as a player, yourself?

Doman: I think that it’s amazing just to get that publicity and just to have everyone see just how cool women’s sports is, and how cool women’s basketball is, and how it’s growing, and how good these players are. And how it’s making little kids want to play basketball and have that fun time to play this game. So I’m grateful for those athletes who are amazing and who have built up this sport to be what it really is.

Miller: Eric Nichols, what do you hope that your student athletes will take away from their time on your teams, separate from athletics, separate from basketball?

Nichols: That’s a good question and something that we talk about quite often. Ultimately, life’s hard. And it’s hard is gonna run your life one way or the other. So [learning] how to overcome adversity, how to be a better person, how to enhance the room. If you’re in the room, you need to be making that room better. And so we talk about those things quite often. Sports are fun. Oh, they’re fun. And they’re about making us better people and it just happens to be, there’s some fun and a bouncing ball attached to it.

Miller: Kaitlyn Siegner, just briefly what are your hopes for next year? You’re going to be a sophomore and also you already have one ring. I don’t know if you actually get rings, but the equivalent of a ring. What are your hopes for next year?

Siegner: Oh, we always gotta hope to do it again. Kortney and all the teams prior to this year have left a high expectation for us. So we’re gonna work hard and see if we can make it happen.

Miller: Kaitlyn, Kortney and Coach Nichols, thanks so much and congratulations again.

Nichols: Thank you.

Doman: Thank you.

Siegner: We appreciate it, thank you.

Miller: Kaitlyn Siegner and Kortney Doman are co-captains of the Crane Union High School girls basketball team. They were the 1A State Champions. Kortney is a senior. Kaitlyn, a freshman. The boys team won as well. They are coached by the principal, Eric Nichols.

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