Former La Pine basketballers shine at OIT
Oregon Tech playing for national women’s basketball crown

If Maria Ramirez were not already a twin, you might think Kassi Conditt was her double.

Though hardly identical — Conditt stands 6 feet 2 inches tall, Ramirez is 5-10 — the two Oregon Institute of Technology women’s basketball teammates are undeniably connected by a degree of twin telepathy.

“They’ve had some of the most incredible passing combinations between the two of them that I think is only possible if you’ve played together since you were kids,” Oregon Tech coach Scott Meredith says. “It’s uncanny.”

“Everyone always comes up to me and Kassi and tells us how the chemistry between the two of us is so perfect,” says Ramirez, a senior guard for the Owls who is averaging 5.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. “We don’t notice it.”

Conditt sees Ramirez as a sister. The senior post, who leads Oregon Tech with 12.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per contest, says she has known Ramirez “forever.” And ever since Conditt first joined the La Pine High School varsity team as a sophomore for the 2007-08 season, Ramirez, then a junior, was there to lead the way.

“I was a younger kid, I didn’t really fit in,” says Conditt. “She took me under her wing and made me feel a part of the team and made me feel included. I think that was a big deal in my life and in my basketball career. I don’t even know if she knows that, but she made a big difference for me. And having her come back to OIT and get to play with her again is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”

A connection was made back in La Pine. And an unexplainable chemistry has continued between the two former Hawks at OIT in Klamath Falls.

The two senior starters have guided the Owls to a program-best 28-5 record this season and the team’s first Cascade Collegiate Conference tournament championship last Monday. The former standouts who led La Pine to a Class 4A state title in 2009 have helped Oregon Tech earn a No. 18 national ranking as the Owls head to this week’s NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship tournament in Sioux City, Iowa.

Meredith acknowledges that Conditt (a 2010 La Pine graduate) and Ramirez (2009) have been instrumental in Oregon Tech’s success.

“They’ve got an incredible chemistry together,” the fifth-year OIT coach says. “They’ve been through state playoffs several times. They’ve been state champions. So they understand what it takes to get to the top. I love recruiting kids out of successful programs.”

From little ol’ La Pine, Conditt and Ramirez have helped vault Oregon Tech into the national small-college spotlight this season, as the Owls opened their schedule with 14 straight wins (a school record) and reached a season-high No. 14 ranking in the NAIA coaches’ poll.

“To get two kids of that caliber from what I consider a local school, it’s just been phenomenal,” says Meredith, who is convinced that nabbing the former La Pine stars was a steal. “They’ve really been a backbone for us the last couple years.”

La Pine is in the rearview mirror for Conditt and Ramirez, but their hometown made its way into the Oregon Tech playbook this season.

Several times each game, Meredith will raise a hand into the air, forming an ‘L’ above his head with a thumb and forefinger. The Owls know the play well, especially Conditt and Ramirez. It is called “La Pine,” and it is designed specifically for the two former Hawks.

The play is a simple pick and roll, as Conditt, who was named to the all-conference squad for the second straight year, fires from the low post to set a screen for Ramirez. The guard rubs off the pick and has several choices: go in for a shot, pass to the rolling Conditt for a jump shot/layup, or look to one of three teammates who are spread out on the back side of the play.

The beauty of “La Pine” is that it can be executed anywhere on the floor, and it is run, Meredith says, by two exceptionally intelligent players.

“Basically,” Meredith says, “we’re saying, ‘Our two are better than your two.’ ”

“Really, we just get free rein to do whatever we want when we call it,” Conditt adds. “He (Meredith) knows that we work together well. And he just wants us to score, basically, when he calls it.”

When Meredith introduced the play at the beginning of the season, Conditt laughed. Ramirez’s reaction: “Why hasn’t this been in the playbook for the last two years?”

Especially considering the effectiveness of the play.

“Like people say,” Ramirez says, “the chemistry that we have and the ability to know what one another is going to do makes it extremely effective on people who don’t know.”

The crafty passing of Ramirez and the dominant post play of Conditt, who is third in the NAIA with 115 blocks this season, have helped propel Oregon Tech this far, to the NAIA D-II national tournament, which the Owls begin Wednesday against Purdue University Calumet.

Every game now, with the season on the line, Ramirez and Conditt remind themselves of that championship season at La Pine High five years ago.

“In La Pine, everyone kind of rallied around us when we started winning games,” Conditt recalls. “They wanted to be a part of it, and I feel the same way here. I feel there’s a great sense of community, and everyone just kind of jumped in — two feet in. … We’re just along for the ride. We’re enjoying it while we can and trying to make waves here.”

“It’s probably one of the most memorable seasons that we’ll have,” Ramirez adds. “And being on the team together, and with the girls that we have at OIT, it’s always a good time. It’s never a dull moment. It’s a really special time for us — all 15 of us.”

—Reporter: 541-383-0307, glucas@bendbulletin.com.

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