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Long time assistant coach Kristy Struck takes over volleyball program with the goal of not only having volleyball success, but making players into better people

LON AUSTIN@CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Kaiao Nahalea talks to members of the Crook County High School volleyball team on Tuesday during the Cowgirls' team camp. The three-day camp worked on fundamentals and improving team bonding. Nahalea is an assistant coach at Concordia University in Portland.For years, Kristy Struck was a familiar figure on the sideline during Crook County High School volleyball games.

The art teacher at Crook County High School was an assistant coach for volleyball coaching legend Rosie Honl for more than a decade. When Honl retired from coaching following the 2017 season, Struck also stepped down from coaching.

Then following the one-year tenure of Baylee Dunkel, Struck agreed to resume coaching, taking over the reins of the Cowgirls.

When hired, Struck said that her first goal was to change the climate of Crook County High School volleyball. That meant putting interpersonal relationships and team chemistry first, even if it might mean losing a few matches to begin with.

"I think that they (the players) want something different for themselves and each other," Struck has worked hard to implement changes, spending countless hours in the gym, giving kids opportunities to play and work on their skills. She has spent time on summer workouts and has spent time on social media communicating with potential players and their parents.

Everything has been geared toward developing skilled volleyball players, but it has also been designed to alter the culture of the team.

As part of changing the culture, Struck has made major changes in the summer program.

Historically the Cowgirls have sponsored a team camp, with as many as 14 other schools coming into town for the camp.

Honl brought in college coaches and head high school coaches from other schools. Each team was given a head coach to guide them through the camp, which ended with a tournament. Historically, teams that placed in the top four at the tournament earned trophies at the state tournament, while most of the other teams at least qualified for state.

Last summer was the last time that Honl ran her camp.

When she took over the program this year, Struck kept the volleyball system that Honl had used, but has begun making other changes.

One of those changes is the Cowgirl team camp. Instead of inviting other teams to CCHS for a competitive camp, Struck decided to hold a team camp for just the Cowgirls.

As rare as it is for high school teams to host a team camp, it is even rarer for teams to hold a team camp, with an outside coach, for just themselves.

Commonly, team camps are all about competing against other teams. However, Struck felt that having her players get to know each other and gel as a team was far more important than the competition that normally comes with a team camp.

Instead, the Cowgirls began a team camp this past Monday with just one team in attendance, the Cowgirls.

"This time, camp is small," Struck said. "You know, usually we run that huge 14-team camp and it was nice to have this very intimate camp where we have this one great coach coming in and running camp. The kids are really having a chance to connect with one another. We have been doing activities that are about each other and playing games together. It's not all about volleyball. I want my kids to be good humans."

For years the Cowgirls have run a system called Gold Medal Squared, or GMS. That system has gained widespread support among a dedicated group of high school and college coaches who have set up a network to work together to improve their volleyball programs.

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Liz Barker hits a ball past the block of Kendall Maycutt and Syrie Ossenkop during the Cowgirls team camp this week. Lily Cooper covers for Barker. Looking for something different for this year, Struck reached out to a college program that also runs GMS and that team, Concordia University in Portland responded.

Concordia assistant coach Kaiao Nahalea came to Prineville and spent three days this past week working with the Cowgirls.

"One of the cool things about the volleyball world is how small it is," Nahalea said during a break in the camp. "Both Crook County and where I coach at Concordia University, we both use the volleyball system known as GMS, so we got connected that way. Coach Kristy was awesome enough to reach out and then we got hooked up like that. We just used our volleyball networking to find each other and we made it work."

Although Struck was involved with the day-to-day planning and preparation for the camp, Nahalea ran the camp, where the team worked on fundamentals, and developing their skills. There was also time built in for players to interact with each other and to build closer friendships.

"It's very unique," Nahalea said. "It's different when a school comes to me and says here's all the things that we teach. Coach Kristy and I are really working to find what it is that I can add to what is already an existing program. So it is me and coach Kristy working together on GMS principles that they are using here."

Nahalea added that he is working to reinforce the skills that players already have, but also to teach other parts of GMS that are used in collegiate volleyball.

"We are working together on stuff that I can introduce at a higher level," he said. "Maybe things that we are going at the college level that is level two of GMS stuff. The beauty of it is it's the same language, so how we talk about passing in our gym, it's the same thing here. It's not like they are relearning. We are just reinforcing and building up."

Struck agreed.

"They are coming in and working hard," she said, not only of the camp, but of other summer activities. "Summer has been pretty hit and miss. We have a lot of kids that work really hard, as everybody knows in this community. We have kids doing animals in 4A and fair and almost all of my kids have jobs, so it's tough for them to make it to open gyms and workouts, but everyone is coming every chance they get."

Struck added that during the summer they have been woring on footwork, weights, plyometrics and overall fitness so that the team will be both fit and healthy for the start of daily doubles in August.

Although players have not made it to every workout Struck was quick to point out that they are all working hard and that most of the team made it to team camp.

At least two dozen players filled the gym for the three day camp and both Struck and Nahalea were pleased with what they saw.

"The kids are getting better," Struck said. "They are coming in and working hard. They are doing mindful practice and I think that they are starting to gel as a team. At least, that's always the hope."

"It's going great," Nahalea added. "You don't find, especially at the high school level, a lot of girls like the Cowgirls. I mean they are focused. They are hard workers for sure and gosh darned they are competitive, so it is fun to be in the gym with them."

Following the end of camp early Wednesday afternoon, the team went to the lake for even more time together. Other summer projects include painting a barn as a fundraiser this Friday. After a short break during the OSAA dead week the team will start to gear up for the fall season.

"Wow, ladies," Struck told her team late last night. "What a great camp. Amazing improvement by every one of you. I am so excited to see what this season brings. Thank you for the hard work and showing Kaiao what Crook County volleyball is all about."

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