Cowgirls fall to West Albany and Crater, fails to earn trophy for the first time since the OSAA went to six classifications in 2006

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Kerigan Waibel passes a ball during the state volleyball tournament, while Mekynzie Wells covers for her. Liz Barker and Stormie Camara are in the foreground. Waibel, who was injured early in the league season, returned to play in the state tournament. She and Wells are the lone seniors on this year's Cowgirl roster. Crook County failed to place in this year's tournament, falling to West Albany and Crater. For the first time since the OSAA went to six classifications in 2006, the Crook County High School volleyball team has returned from the state tournament empty-handed.

The Cowgirls lost their quarterfinal match to second-ranked West Albany Friday morning, then struggled Saturday as they fell to third-ranked Crater in the first round of consolation play at the tournament, which was held at Liberty High School in Hillsboro.

"I definitely think that everybody put in a lot of heart and a lot of effort," Crook County head coach Baylee Dunkel said of the team's play at state. "I'm super proud of them. I just think that being in a new classification this year with us moving up from 4A to 5A, there was a lot that we encountered that just got to us a little bit. It wasn't from a lack of effort. It wasn't from lack of preparation. I just think that it was a faster game than we were used to."

The Cowgirls took the first set from West Albany in Friday's quarterfinals but could never get their offense going the remainder of the tournament as they fell three sets to one to the Bulldogs, then were swept Saturday morning by the Comets.

The Cowgirls struggled with consistency on Friday in their loss to the Bulldogs.

The Cowgirls came out strong, winning the first set 25-22. However, that was the last set they would win the entire tournament. Crook County stumbled in the second set and never recovered as the Bulldogs won the next three sets to take a 22-25, 25-17, 25-16, 25-20 victory.

The Cowgirls fell behind early in the opening set, trailing 8-2 before staging a rally. The Cowgirls tied the set at 11-11 on an ace by Anna Woodward. Crook County finally took the lead for good on a Kendall Maykut kill that made the score 18-17. Crook County finally put the set away on a Raegan Wilkins kill.

The Cowgirls fell behind again in the second set, but this time they were unable to recover. Crook County trailed 22-11 before closing the gap late in the set. The third set was more of the same as Crook County fell behind early, then made a late rally.

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Raegan Wilkins goes up for a kill against Crater Saturday morning at the state tournament. Wilkins led the Cowgirls in kills with 19 on Friday against West Albany and 11 on Saturday against Crater.The Cowgirls came out strong in the fourth set, opening a 5-2 lead. The Cowgirls still led 15-14 before West Albany was able to regain control of the match. The Bulldogs steadily pulled away at the end to take the match and the set.

Mekynzie Wells and Kacie Stafford led the Cowgirl defensive effort with 29 and 19 digs, respectively. Kerigan Waibel returned from a knee injury to play only in the back row, where she came away with 11 digs.

Wilkins led the Crook County offensive attack with 19 kills, while Kenna Woodward and Maykut each finished with seven kills, and Lily Cooper added five.

Taylor Tedrow led West Albany with 13 kills, while Alexis Chapman and Lindsey Stewart finished with 11 and 10 kills, respectively.

Crook County struggled the entire match with their passing, making it difficult to run their offense the entire match.

The Cowgirls did have six aces in the match, one each from Anna Woodward, Wells, Stafford, Stormie Camara, Waibel and Kenna Woodward, while West Albany had just five aces in the match.

However, the Bulldogs scored several easy points on balls that were overpassed by the Cowgirls, leading to easy kills for West Albany.

West Albany setter Courtney Isom kept the Cowgirls off balance the entire match, finishing with 42 assists and five kills, all coming on dumps at critical points in the match.

With the victory, West Albany advanced to the semifinals, where they fell to Ridgeview Friday night. The Bulldogs came back Saturday to defeat league-rivals Dallas in the third-place match.

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Mekynzie Wells (No. 4) exhorts her teammates during a timeout during the Cowgirls' match with Crater on Saturday. Crook County lost to West Albany on Friday in four sets, then lost to Crater Saturday morning in straight sets. It is the first time that the Cowgirls have not gotten a trophy at the state tournament since the OSAA went to six classifications in 2006. Meanwhile, the Cowgirls never got going in their match with Crater as the Comets won in straight sets, 25-19, 25-14, 25-19.

Crook County took the lead 1-0 in the opening set on a Crater error but never led again in the set as the Comets rolled out to an 18-11 lead. The Cowgirls tried to rally late, at one point closing to within four points at 23-19 on a Maykut kill.

However, the Comets scored the next two points to put the set away.

Crook County also led briefly in the second set before a Crater ace tied the score at 5-5. From that point on, it was all Comets as they cruised to the easy win.

The Cowgirls led again early in the third set, taking an 8-7 lead on an ace by Anna Woodward.

However, the Comets scored the next three points to once again take control of the match. The Cowgirls tied the match at 16-16, but they were never able to regain the lead and the Comets once again took control, closing out the match on an ace by Aubrey Kievit.

Once again, the Cowgirls were led defensively by Wells with 18 digs and Stafford with nine.

Offensively, Maykut and Wilkins each finished with 11 kills, but no other Cowgirl had more than two kills in the match.

Meanwhile, Nehkyah Ellis and Addison Lowder each had 10 kills for the Comets, while Maya Van Hook finished with 11 kills.

"It gets discouraging to know you are so close and then to lose it at the end," Dunkel said of Crook County's performance at the state tournament. "I think that the girls really wanted it, and they put in their best effort, but these teams just ran a quicker offense, while we relied on our defense. When that was lacking, they ran some points on us and that was that."

The Comets went on to fall to Hood River Valley in the fourth-place match.

Number one-ranked Corvallis went on to win the tournament, sweeping Ridgeview in the championship match.

Although Dunkel was disappointed that the Cowgirls were unable to place at the state tournament, she noted that the Intermountain Conference made a strong showing in the playoffs. Three of the eight teams in the state tournament came from the IMC, with three more coming from the Mid-Willamette Conference.

Those two conferences were the only leagues to have teams place at state, with the Mid-Willamette Conference taking first, third and fifth, while the IMC finished in second and fourth.

"It definitely speaks to the level of competition that we had in our league," Dunkel said. "I think that's why we were able to get to state is because we had such good competition with them.

"I'm really proud of the team with this being a transition year. It went better than I thought it would with a new coaching staff and with us moving up from 4A to 5A. I'm just really proud of them, and I think it speaks to what Rosie (Honl, long-time CCHS head coach who retired following last year) has implemented, and I think that it just speaks to how much those girls really want to win."

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