The Cougars are poised to repeat as Class 1A state champions for the fourth time in a row as they return

PIONEER PHOTO: CONNER WILLIAMS - Country Christian senior Mollie Lewandowski sets up at the net to defend a point during a home game last season.

Head coach: Janin McGrath, seventh season – Class 1A Coach of the Year

2016 record: 30-2 overall, 12-0 Valley 10 play – OSAA Class 1A State Champions

Three-year record: 81-11 overall, 38-0 Valley 10 play

Last playoff appearance: 2016, beat North Douglas 25-17, 20-25, 25-20, 25-21 in the state finals to win their third state title in a row

Key departures: Taris Krutsch (Second Team All-Tournament, Second Team All-League)

Players to watch: Senior setter/OP Maddy Weyer (Class 1A Player of the Year, First Team All-Tournament, Valley 10 Player of the Year, First Team All-League), senior outside hitter/middle blocker Meghan McGrath (Class 1A State Championship Co-Player of the Game, Second Team All-Tournament, First Team All-State, First Team All-League, All-League Defensive Team), senior middle blocker Mollie Lewandowski (First Team All-State, Second Team All-Tournament, First Team All-League), senior libero/outside hitter Anna Farner (Second Team All-League, All-League Defensive Team MVP), junior setter/defensive specialist Katie Sandberg, and junior outside hitter Sarah Phillips

PIONEER PHOTO: CONNER WILLIAMS - Country Christian junior Sarah Phillips jumps up to send in a kill during a home game against Damasuc Christian last season.

Season outlook: Country Christian's volleyball team has the chance to do something only a few teams have done in any sport: win four high school state championships in a row.

And the Cougars will have a very strong chance of making that happen, as they return a majority of players from last year's championship squad.

They return a core group of seven seniors who have all been part of state championship teams for three years now – a group that's been playing together for years and is hungry to end their high school careers on a high note.

PIONEER PHOTO: CONNER WILLIAMS - Country Christian senior Maddy Weyer sets the ball during a home game last season.

And while the Cougars will be the big dog on top, head coach Janin McGrath, who was the 2016 Class 1A Coach of the Year, knows it won't come easy.

"We return a lot of talent, and with a large class of seniors, we also return a lot of leadership and maturity within the team," she said. "However, meeting that goal (of defending their titles again) won't come easy. It will take hard work in practice to be better every day. But I believe this group is up for the challenge."

The Cougars are more than poised to repeat yet again, but McGrath named a few teams she thinks also have the capability of making a run, including North Douglas, Adrian, Powder Valley, Hosanna Christian, Joseph, and Jordan Valley. The Cougars will get to see four of those teams in the preseason this year in their tournament at CCS this Friday and Saturday.

McGrath has made a conscious effort to stack her team's non-league schedule in order to prepare them to cruise through league, like they have the past three seasons. They'll play larger schools like Kennedy, Reedsport, and Perrydale, and will travel down to Phoenix, Arizona at the end of September to play in the Nike Tournament of Champions in order to gain some tougher competition.

PIONEER PHOTO: CONNER WILLIAMS - Country Christian senior Meghan McGrath jumps up to block a shot during a home game against Damascus Christian last season.

From a roster standpoint, the Cougars do have a couple of questions marks they'll be looking to nail down, including replacing Taris Krutsch and senior Meghan McGrath, who is still recovering from ACL reconstruction surgery back in March. She will make a full return to the court, but McGrath said she may need to move Meghan away from her old role of middle hitter in order to protect her knee.

"[With] the amount of experience and multi-position talent that we have returning, I'm confident that we will have options for our setters from all positions," McGrath said.

Returning senior Class 1A Player of the Year Maddy Weyer will likely take the primary setter role again, but could share it with Meghan, and they both may see some time as outside hitters.

Senior First Team All-State winner Mollie Lewandowski and senior Sierra Ross are expected to play lockdown defense at the net again this season, while senior All-League Defensive Team MVP Anna Farner will continue her role as libero, but may see some front row work as well.

PIONEER PHOTO: CONNER WILLIAMS - Country Christian senior Anna Farner gets in position to defend a point during a home game last season.

Seniors Jasmine Griffith and Debby Grandle both spent much of their junior seasons dealing with injuries, but they are both expected to be contributing forces this year as well.

The Cougars also return two juniors in Sarah Phillips and Katie Sandberg who both saw significant playing time in the state tournament last season, along with five incoming freshmen.

First game: The Cougars take on Lone at 8 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 25 at home to kick off their season preview tournament to take place on Aug. 25-26 as all-day events, where they are scheduled to play nine matches in two days. Valley 10 play begins at home against Valor Christian on Sept. 12 at 4:30 p.m.

Conner Williams
Sports Reporter/News Contributor
503-829-2301 ext. 341
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