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After sweeping Marist Catholic Spartans,Cowgirls comes back from an early deficit to slip past Mustangs

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Anna Woodward sets a ball at a match earlier in the season. Woodward finished with 80 assists last Thursday as the Cowgirls defeated the Marist Catholic Spartans and the Hidden Valley Mustangs in a pair of road matches. The Crook County Cowgirls volleyball squad was tested Thursday night, beating two tough teams in Eugene.

The Cowgirls cruised in the first set against the host Marist Catholic Spartans only to see the Spartans come back to make the match close in the latter stages.

Then, the Cowgirls dropped the first set of a tight match to Hidden Valley before coming back to win a five-set thriller.

"That was probably the toughest competition we've had so far," Crook County head coach Baylee Dunkel said. "Hidden Valley is a tough team."

The Cowgirls cruised to a 25-10 victory in the opening set against Marist. However, a scrappy Marist team refused to go away quietly, making a match of it as they fell 25-20, 25-22 in the remaining two matches.

Dunkel said that part of the difference was that she began to substitute after the easy first set win, but that Marist was a scrappy team that didn't give up.

"We had some of our players that don't see a lot of playing time in," she said. "They went out there and it was a seamless transition, but Marist had pretty good defense. It was hard to serve on them and hard to get the ball down."

After sweeping the match against Marist, it looked like the Cowgirls might suffer their first defeat of the season early in their match with Hidden Valley.

The Mustangs, who are perennial powers in Class 4A, were ranked No. 1 going into the match.

Hidden Valley wasted no time showing everyone in the gym that they deserved that ranking.

The Mustangs rolled out to a big early lead in the first set, leading 18-6 before the Cowgirls staged a late rally.

Although Crook County made it look close by the end of the set, Hidden Valley still came away with a 25-20 win.

Then, in the second set, the Mustangs once again jumped out to a big lead, going up 13-7 before the Cowgirls came storming back to take the set 25-15.

"They came out strong and just blasted us in that first set," Dunkel said. "I was a little frustrated that we let Hidden Valley come out that strong, but I'm super proud of the girls for picking it up and taking the win because it was actually a difficult match."

The Cowgirls won the third set 25-20, but Hidden Valley wasn't through fighting. The Mustangs rallied to take set three 25-20, setting up a fifth and final set to 15.

The final set went back and forth with neither team able to gain an advantage.

Hidden Valley tied the set 13-13 on a big kill, but the Cowgirls were able to side out, then take the win on a blast from Raegan Wilkins.

Wilkins finished with 25 kills in the match and added 12 kills in the earlier match against Marist.

"It was really tiring," Wilkins said of the doubleheader. "But I believe that we handled it really good. Even though we had played a match before Hidden Valley, we were still in it to win it. We put all our effort out."

Kenna Woodward finished the Hidden Valley match with 11 kills, while Kerigan Waibel added 10.

Waibel, one of the team's two seniors, added nine kills against Marist, while Woodward had six.

Although Wilkins, Waibel and Woodward generated a lot of offense for the Cowgirls, it was on the defensive end that the team was able to win the match.

"Our passing wasn't always the greatest in both matches," Dunkel said. "So Anna Woodward (the team's setter) was running around the whole time, and she was working her butt off. She was really great. And Mekynzie Wells just had an amazing defensive game."

Wells finished with 48 digs against Hidden Valley and had 36 against Marist.

"I was pleased with our win against Hidden Valley because we had to dig out all our shots and stuff, and we had to cut down our errors and be really mindful," Wells said. "It shows us what we are capable of doing, and when we got behind, it showed the heart that our team has."

Meanwhile, Anna Woodward did a masterful job of directing the offense, picking up 29 assists against Marist and 51 assists against Hidden Valley.

With the pair of victories, the Cowgirls improved their record to 4-0 on the season.

"We got down sometimes," Wilkins said. "But having teammates that are like a family, they always cheer you up during a game. I think that we can really go places this year."

The Cowgirls will host their annual Blue and Gold dinner, scrimmage and auction tonight, with dinner beginning at 5 p.m. and the scrimmages starting at 6 p.m.

Then the team jumps straight into the Intermountain Conference season, hosting The Dalles, 1-3, in a 6 p.m. match on Thursday.

The Cowgirls' busy week continues on Saturday when they travel to Medford for the Rogue Valley Classic, which features some of the top Class 5A and 6A schools in the state.

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