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Despite not winning a match all season, Crook County can hold their heads up after scoring a late goal in their final match

CENTRAL OREGONIAN FILE PHOTO
 - Shelby Squire works to move the ball down the field past a Madras opponent during a match earlier this season.The soccer season didn't go the way that the Crook County Cowgirls had hoped.

The team struggled offensively all year, scoring just five goals the entire season, but head coach Rich Abrams and the team was still positive about the improvement they made.

"We are moving in the right direction," Abrams said. "But everybody got playing time this year, as much as they needed and more."

A big positive for the Cowgirls was they did score a goal late in their final match of the season against Madras, who ended up third in the Tri-Valley Conference.

"That goal meant a lot, especially to the seniors," Abrams said following the match. "It gave us a big lift and validated what we have been doing."

The Cowgirls finished the year with a 0-10 league record and an 0-13 overall mark, but Abrams was quick to point out that this year wasn't about wins and losses, it was about making progress.

For the first time in several years, most of the team will return next year. The Cowgirls lose just two players to graduation, defenders Nohemy Zaratte and Jillian Denney.

"We have the chance to have a much better season next year because we're only losing two seniors, so all that work, it doesn't drain away," Abrams said. "So we are now in a pretty good position as far as next year to just show a lot more improvement, a lot more ball possession."

He added that the big goal for this season was to try to keep the other teams from scoring. With an inexperienced team playing in a good league, that proved to be difficult.

The Cowgirls gave up more goals this year than any other Class 4A team, while scoring the fewest goals of any team in the classification.

Still, the defense did improve as the season progressed.

Now that the defense and midfield are in place, Abrams expects to work more next year on ball possession and trying to score goals.

"We wanted to work this year on just keeping from being scored on and with not having to redo that whole bit for next year, we can focus more now on moving the ball up the field and getting scoring opportunities," Abrams said.

The JV program was also improved this year. Abrams noted that there were several players on the JV team that played well enough to be given a chance to get some varsity playing time.

However, due to injuries, the Cowgirls finished the season with just 12 varsity players and 10 JV players.

Playing shorthanded, the JV team was still competitive. However, with both teams playing at the same time and no extra players, Abrams was unable to get any of those players varsity experience.

Still, everyone played a lot of minutes, giving them needed experience.

In addition, Abrams added that there are several solid middle school players that are expected to move into the program next year. Abrams said that he has also been approached by several freshmen who did not play this year that are interested in playing next year.

"We should have strong numbers," he said. "We have a pretty good group coming up for next year, and we have almost everyone back. I would say that this year was a giant learning curve. I know that sounds like a coach thing to say, but we were completely inexperienced, and I think that they grew."

Building a winning program at Crook County has proven to be difficult.

Since joining the Tri-Valley Conference in 2014, Crook County has won just four conference games and tied one, while dropping 35. Nonconference action hasn't been much better as the team has won just two nonconference games in that time period.

If you go back farther, it doesn't get any better. During the four years that Crook County competed in Special District 1, they won just six games and tied two, while dropping 42 matches.

Before that, Crook County was in the Class 5A Intermountain Conference, where they won just one league match in their final four years in the conference.

Although the Cowgirls should be better next year, the team rejoins the Intermountain Conference, potentially making the competition even tougher.

"I have no idea other than the Redmond teams what we are getting into with those other teams" Abrams said of the move to Class 5A. "I think that we can compete at that Redmond level and next year we will. It's hard to know where things will go next year, but I think that we will improve as far as what we do on the field. Whether we can turn that into wins against teams like Ridgeview and really strong programs, that remains to be seen."

The good news for Crook County is that next year's IMC will not be the same as in the past.

The Bend schools, who have dominated soccer not just on the local level but at the state level, are moving up to Class 6A and will no longer be in the picture.

However, Ridgeview reached the quarterfinals this year before falling in a close match, and Hood River Valley, which will join the conference next year, was a league champion. Finding a way to win games will still be an uphill battle.

With that in mind, it isn't about winning matches to Abrams, it is all about getting better.

Whether or not that will translate to wins remains to be seen, but Abrams is confident that the team will be improved.

"We are moving in the right direction," he repeated. "And I think that we will be considerably better next year."

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