Each year the Crook County High School varsity volleyball team takes a portion of summer vacation to help prepare for the upcoming season.
This year, the team recently spent four days competing in the Rimrock Volleyball Team Camp, which is held annually at Crook County High School.
"It's really fun," said sophomore Stormie Camara, a defensive specialist, who was on the JV team a year ago. "There are only a couple of returning varsity players here, but it is still a really good experience."
The camp drills players in fundamentals as well as gives teams a chance to work together prior to the official start of practice.
Normally the Cowgirls have an experienced team at the camp. However, this year was different. Although Crook County has six players returning from last year's squad, which finished second at state, many of those players had previous commitments and missed the team camp.
"I've always been on the younger team, so I finally got to step up this year and play with the older girls," said incoming freshman Kennedy Buckner.
As a result, the Cowgirls unveiled their younger players.
Although senior Cassidy Dill and sophomore Anna Woodward both competed in most of the camp, Woodward was unable to attend on Monday, leaving Dill as the lone returning varsity player as the Cowgirls competed in the end of camp tournament.
Not only were the Cowgirls missing much of last year's varsity team, Oregon Institute of Technology head coach Andrew Clifton, who had coached the Cowgirls during the first three days of the camp, was unable to attend Monday. Crook County head coach Rosie Honl, who directs the camp, was also missing on Monday. Honl recently had a ruptured bicep surgically repaired and had a doctor's appointment, prior to leaving on Tuesday for a volleyball camp in Texas.
As a result, the Cowgirls were coached by Jennifer Roth, who graduated this June.
With so much inexperience one might have expected the Cowgirls to struggle. Instead, the team more than held their own. After dropping the first game to Silverton in the tournament quarterfinals, the Cowgirls came back to win game two 25-22, setting up a final third game showdown. Playing to 15 in game three, the Cowgirls took control early, eventually taking a 15-9 victory.
The win advanced the Cowgirls to the tournament semifinals, where they faced Class 6A North Medford.
The Cowgirls fell behind early to North Medford, but battled back, erasing a seven-point deficit before finally falling 25-21 in game one. The Cowgirls briefly held a lead in game two, but were unable to hold it as the taller and more experienced North Medford team eventually pulled out a 25-22 win.
The win moved North Medford into the championship round, where they defeated Barlow.
Historically the winner of the Rimrock end of camp tournament goes on to take a trophy at the state tournament. Whether that will happen this year remains to be seen as North Medford is in a difficult league and failed to reach the playoffs a year ago.
Still, dropping a close game to a solid Class 6A team is nothing to be ashamed of for the Cowgirls.
"I thought it was fun and I learned a lot," sophomore Lily Pope, who was on the JV team last year, said of the camp. "It made me work a lot harder. My hitting definitely improved and so did my passing. I thought that in the beginning we didn't really work together that well, but in the end we were really working well together. We definitely made progress."
Fellow sophomore Reagan Wilkins agreed.
"It was more intense than we are used to," she said. "It was more fast and I never played with the bigger girls until now. When we won against Silverton, I was pretty excited. I feel like if we stick together and get along and be a family and a team, we can win."
All four girls agreed that the biggest difference between the volleyball that they had played before and the level of play at the camp was how fast the game was played.
"It's really fast," Camara said. "But I think I improved a lot. I got faster and I read the ball better in the back row."
Buckner was also surprised with the speed of the game.
"It was faster paced and more aggressive," Buckner said. "And it was a lot more work. I learned to keep a good attitude and work hard to lift up your team."
"We missed the older girls," Pope added, "but it was also good because it gave us a chance to play more. I didn't realize how fast the game were going to be until I actually got into it."