Missing three starters is not a problem as Crook County takes an easy win over Redmond

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN -  Stormie Camara dives for a ball during the Cowgirls' win last Thursday night at Redmond. Camara, who is normally a defensive specialist, played libero for the Cowgirls in the match and finished with a team-high 11 digs.The Crook County Cowgirl volleyball team has been plagued with injuries this year.

The Cowgirls lost outside hitter Kerigan Waibel to a knee injury early in the league season.

Then last week, middle blocker Kenna Woodward went down with an ankle injury.

Now, libero Mekynzie Wells is nursing a strained muscle and missed Thursday's match at Redmond.

"I always get nervous because you never know what the other team is going to bring," Crook County head coach Baylee Dunkel said. "Even though we might have beat them before, any team could come out and win in the end, so I really honed in on the girls to come out and play hard — to take it seriously and play to your level. I told them to respect the other team enough to give it your all."

Despite the injuries, the Cowgirls didn't miss a beat, sweeping the Panthers 25-11, 25-13, 25-15.

"I'm just proud of all the girls, especially the injured ones for helping us out and still sticking with their team," Dunkel said. "It's really supportive, and I know that our team responds well when they are here. I'm a coach that hates to sit people, and this was a game where I knew that I could probably get some girls in that don't always get a lot of time."

Defensive specialist Stormie Camara stepped into the libero position in place of Wells and led the Cowgirls in digs with 11. Camara also had three aces on the night as the Cowgirls cruised to the easy victory.

It would have been easy to understand if Crook County had a letdown after dropping a close match to Ridgeview Tuesday night in Prineville. However, the Cowgirls came out strong against the Panthers, running out to a quick 5-0 lead to start the opening set.

The Cowgirls continued to expand their lead and closed out the set on a thunderous spike by Raegan Wilkins.

The Cowgirls started more slowly in the second set as the Panthers tied the set 3-3 on a kill by Lyndsey Martin.

However, from there it was all Crook County.

Kills by Lily Cooper and Wilkins sandwiched between aces from Kacie Stafford and Camara lifted the Cowgirls to a 21-11 lead.

The Cowgirls then closed out the set on a pair of kills by Kendall Maykut.

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Rebecca Cooper makes a pass during the match, which the Cowgirls won in straight sets. The victory guaranteed the Cowgirls a spot in the playoffs. Redmond regrouped after the second set loss and led portions of the third and final set.

The Panthers opened up a 4-1 lead and still led until a pair of aces from Cooper tied the set at 6-6.

The Cowgirls took the lead for good on a net violation by the Panthers at 7-6 and steadily pulled away for the win.

"It was pretty great," said Rebecca Cooper, who came off the bench and picked up an ace in the match. "I think we did really well without three starters. Yeah, I feel like we communicated more, and I thought that since I went in for Raegan, and we had fun tonight. We had a couple of laughs. Of the three starters we were missing, two were seniors, so next year this could be our starters. Getting to play with these people is really great."

Wilkins and Maykut each had 10 kills for the Cowgirls, while Cooper finished with seven.

Wilkins also had six digs in the contest, while Syrie Ossenkop had four digs, two blocks and a kill.

As a team, the Cowgirls finished with 12 aces and 28 kills, while the Panthers had just one ace and 10 kills on the night.

With the victory, the Cowgirls improved to 18-10 overall and 6-3 in conference play.

However, Crook County fell from sixth to eighth in the power rankings.

Meanwhile, the Panthers dropped to 3-20 overall and 0-10 in league as they closed out the season with the loss.

Crook County has one regular season game remaining, a match on Tuesday, Oct. 23, at Pendleton, 5-11, 4-5.

The power rankings freeze at 10 p.m. Tuesday night, with the bracket for the first round of the state playoffs scheduled to be released either late Tuesday night or sometime Wednesday.

As long as the Cowgirls don't drop further in the power rankings, they should host a first-round playoff game.

All first-round games are tentatively scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 27, with winners advancing to the state tournament, which is scheduled to run Friday and Saturday, Nov. 2-3 at Liberty High School in Hillsboro.

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