Cowgirls find a way to win three-set thriller over defending state champion Outlaws

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - The Cowgirl players celebrate after winning the fourth and final set Tuesday night at Sisters. It was the first time in four years that Crook County had been able to defeat Sisters.The Crook County Cowgirls may finally have Central Oregon bragging rights.

Each of the last three years, the Cowgirls have been able to defeat the big Bend schools but have been beaten by the Sisters Outlaws.

Tuesday night, that all changed as the Cowgirls rolled into the home of the two-time defending Class 4A state champions and found a way to win, taking a 3-1 victory over the Outlaws.

"It felt good, because I know a lot of us have been wanting to beat Sisters for the longest time," outside hitter Raegan Wilkins said following the match. "We came in hard and strong, and I'm really proud of the team."

The Cowgirls came out on fire, scoring the first six points of game one.

However, after a timeout, Sisters battled back, finally tying the game 12-12.

It didn't take the Cowgirls long to regain control. A rare service error by the Outlaws gave the Cowgirls a 13-12 lead before Wilkins served four consecutive points, three of them on aces, as the Cowgirls regained control of the set.

Crook County went on to win 25-21, closing out the set on a kill by Lily Cooper.

Crook County took an early lead once again in the second set, rolling out to a 3-0 lead on a pair of aces by Mekynzie Wells and a kill by Kenna Woodward.

However, the Outlaws came storming back.

Sisters tied the set at 6-6 on a kill by Greta Davis.

The two teams traded points and were still tied 10-10 before the Outlaws went on a run, outscoring the Cowgirls 11-4 to seemingly take control of the set.

Trailing 21-14, the Cowgirls called timeout and regrouped.

After a Sisters service error, an ace by Woodward followed by a kill from Liz Barker closed the gap to 21-17.

The Outlaws made it 22-17 on a kill by Kendra Sitz.

However, led by five kills by Wilkins, the Cowgirls scored seven of the next eight points to tie the set at 23-23.

Sisters eventually went on to take the set, 27-25. However, the Cowgirls had proved to themselves that they could come back from a deficit, something that proved to be important later in the match.

The Outlaws scored three consecutive points midway through set three, to take a 9-6 lead.

However, once again, the Cowgirls came storming back. Crook County scored the next six points to take a 12-9 lead.

From that point on, the Cowgirls were in control as they cruised to a 25-17 win in the set.

Then in the final set of the night, the Cowgirls once again spotted the Outlaws a lead and once again found a way to come back and win as they closed out the match.

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Mekynzie Wells lunges for a ball. Wells saved the ball and Crook County eventually won the point. A block by Sophia Silva gave the Outlaws a 9-6 lead. Sisters extended their lead to 10-6 on a rare hitting error by Wilkins.

However, the Cowgirls quickly came back. With Wilkins getting three kills and Kerigan Waibel another, Crook County closed to within a point at 10-11.

A Barker block knotted the score at 11-11, but the Outlaws didn't fold. With kills by Sitz and Silva leading the way, they regained momentum, stretching out to a 15-12 lead.

Sisters still led 18-15 before the Cowgirls put on another surge.

A Wilkins kill followed by a pair of Woodward aces tied the score at 18-18. From there, the two teams traded points, with Sisters leading 23-21 after a Sitz kill.

From there, it was all Crook County as they scored the final four points of the set and the match.

Waibel picked up a pair of kills during the run, and Wells had her seventh ace of the night as Crook County closed out the match with a hard-fought 25-23 win.

"You guys are doing what you need to do when it needs to be done," Crook County head coach Baylee Dunkel told her team following the match. "This just shows how much you guys want this, and I think it sets the tone for our season. I'm so excited, and I'm really proud of you guys."

Wilkins finished with 23 kills for the Cowgirls, while hitting at a .542 pace.

Waibel also had a solid offensive game for the Cowgirls with 14 kills and a .500 hitting percentage.

Woodward finished with seven kills, while Barker and Cooper each finished with three.

As a team, Crook County had 52 kills, while stellar Cowgirl defense kept the Outlaws to just 27 kills.

Samantha Silva and Sitz each had nine kills to lead the Outlaw effort.

The Cowgirls also had the edge when it came to aces, with Crook County recording 18 compared to 11 for the Outlaws.

In addition to the seven aces from Wells, Wilkins had five while Woodward had three and Waibel two.

In addition to her serving, Wells also had a great passing and defensive match. The senior libero led the Cowgirls in passing efficiency, while doing most of the service receive for Crook County. Wells also led all players in digs with 22.

"I was super happy with the team," Wells said. "We all showed a lot of heart and the will to win. It was super fun. After three years of things not going our way against Sisters, to come back and take it at their home means a lot."

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Kerigan Waibel goes up for one of her 14 kills against Sisters Tuesday night. Waibel is one of the Cowgirls' team captains and one of just two seniors on the roster. Crook County won the match 3-1. Dunkel said that one of the big keys to the team's win was how well they adjust to coaching.

"They are a super responsive team, which I'm not used to," she said. "So you tell them one thing, and they do it, it's amazing."

Dunkel credited three players with the team's ability to win tight sets.

"Mekynzie Wells and Kerigan Waibel, our captains, elevated the energy level by helping the girls to pick themselves up," she said. "And I think Wilkins hits, and her ability to finish the point is amazing, and that helped us out a lot."

Wilkins said that the coaches helped keep the team calm when they got behind or the score was tight and that also contributed to the team's success.

"The team and the coaches are really supportive," she said. "They just tell us to calm down, and our teammates are all really supportive, and they are just really helpful."

Dunkel added that everyone on the team contributed, including players on the bench who failed to see any action.

"When you needed the energy level to pick up, you picked it up," she told the team. "Everybody played so well, and the bench was so supportive. I just love that."

Crook County also took the JV match against Sisters, taking a 3-0 sweep.

The Cowgirls have their first home match on Tuesday, Sept. 4 when they host the Madras White Buffalos in a 6 p.m. match.

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