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Crook County rolls past Redmond, The Dalles, Hood River Valley and Ridgeview, sends message that they are the team to beat in Intermountain Conference

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Raegan Wilkins goes up for a kill during a team volleyball camp earlier this summer, while Mekynzie Wells covers. Wilkins led the Cowgirls in hitting on Thursday as they went undefeated at the Hood River jamboree.The debut for first-year head coach Baylee Dunkel couldn't have gone any better.

The Crook County Cowgirls rolled past all the competition Thursday afternoon at the Hood River Jamboree, showing that they will be the team to beat in the Intermountain Conference.

"I'm really happy," Dunkel said. "It was a good way to start the season out. I think everybody is where they need to be, and everyone is working together. They are a cohesive unit, and that's really nice."

The Cowgirls, who are ranked second in Class 5A in the first coaches' poll of the season, showed that they are once again going to be one of the top teams in the state and convincingly answered any questions about the move up from Class 4A to Class 5A.

Crook County cruised past Redmond 25-11 in their opening game of the jamboree, then blasted The Dalles 25-9.

After helping officiate in the third round of the tournament, the team didn't miss a beat as they defeated Hood River Valley 25-19.

The Hood River Valley victory was huge for the Cowgirls. The Eagles won the Columbia River Conference last year and reached the Class 5A quarterfinals. The team is both tall and experienced, with three players on their roster taller than 6-1 and nine returning seniors off of last year's league championship team.

Still, the Cowgirls were in control throughout the game against the Eagles, who are ranked eighth in the coaches' poll.

Crook County's win over Ridgeview in the final set of the jamboree may have been even more impressive.

The Cowgirls led by a small margin early, then gradually stretched their lead, closing out the set with an impressive 25-17 win.

Ridgeview finished third in the Intermountain Conference standings a year ago, behind Bend and Summit. The two Bend schools, which finished one-two at last year's state tournament, have since moved up to Class 6A.

Ridgeview, which has six players 5-10 or taller on their roster, was ranked seventh in the final Class 5A power rankings a year ago and are ranked fifth in this year's first coaches' poll.

Meanwhile, the Cowgirls have just two players 5-10 or taller on their roster, with no six footers.

"Hood River and Ridgeview both gave us a test," Dunkel said. "They will probably be our hardest competition in league this year."

Dunkel said that senior libero Mekynzie Wells had an outstanding day, especially serving the ball.

Junior outside hitter Raegan Wilkins also had a big day for the Cowgirls.

"Mekynzie had probably one of the best serving games that I have ever seen," Dunkel said. "She had a really solid day, and Raegan had a really great game with her hitting, and she had very few errors."

Dunkel added that junior middle blocker Kenna Woodward had a monster game against the Ridgeview Ravens.

"She had four kills out of six attempts in our last game," she said. "That's a very good hitting percentage, and she was great in the middle as well. She had a couple of really solid, really big blocks."

Dunkel added that not only did the team win all four of their sets in the jamboree, but she was able to play everyone on the roster, and they all contributed.

"I got everybody in," she said. "And even if they were on the bench, they were cheering really loud, and they were part of the team, so that was good."

Pendleton is the lone Intermountain Conference team that Crook County did not see on Thursday. The Buckaroos are also expected to be tough and are tied for 10th in the coaches' poll.

With four teams in the top 10 in the coaches' poll, the IMC is clearly one of the toughest conferences in the state, if not the toughest.

Still, Crook County made a statement on Thursday as they rolled through the competition.

"They are amazing," Dunkel said of her team. "I'm very very proud."

The Cowgirls play their first match of the year tonight at Sisters. The defending Class 4A state champions lost several key players to graduation but showed that they are still a force to be reckoned with on Friday when they went 4-1 at a jamboree at Summit High School.

The team has their first home match on Tuesday, Sept. 4, when they host Madras. Both matches are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

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