Only loss is to Ridgeview, which was the league champion and state tournament runner-up a year ago

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Lily Cooper goes up for one of her 11 kills on Thursday at the Ridgeview Jamboree. Cooper is one of five seniors on the Cowgirl roster. The Crook County Cowgirls showed on Thursday that they are ready for the volleyball season to get underway.

Crook County finished with a 3-1 record on Thursday in the Ridgeview Jamboree, downing Hood River Valley, Pendleton and Redmond during the day.

"Our passing has improved and our serving was really consistent all day today," Crook County first year head coach Kristy Struck said following the jamboree. "We have not spent any time on our hitting. We have worked on serving and passing a lot, so our hitting wasn't spectacular, but in spite of that, we had quite a few girls hit positive, so I can't complain."

The Cowgirls lone loss was a 25-16 defeat at the hands of Ridgeview, last year's Intermountain Conference champions, and the runner-up at the state tournament.

Crook County opened the jamboree with a 25-17 victory over Hood River Valley, which placed second in the IMC a year ago.

The Cowgirls probably should have won by even more as they held a 23-11 lead before Hood River Valley made a late run. Six different Cowgirls had kills in the match. However, it was serving that won the match for Crook County.

The Cowgirls had just two service errors in the set and scored five points on aces as they controlled the set.

The Cowgirls also easily dispatched Pendleton, taking a 25-15 win. Once again, serving was key as the team finished with five aces and no service errors in the win.

The team struggled against Ridgeview's size in the 25-16 loss, then rebounded to sneak by Redmond 25-23, once again without any service errors.

Every Cowgirl who served hit at least 90 percent of their serves.

However, two servers especially stood out.

Senior Anna Woodward went 30 for 32 from the service line with eight aces, while junior Kacie Stafford went 14 for 15 with a pair of aces.

"Anna was amazing," Struck said. "She is serving tough. Eight aces in 32 attempts, that is a great day of serving."

Although the Cowgirls haven't spent any time on hitting, three Cowgirls still had solid matches. Senior Kenna Woodward led the team with 12 kills, while fellow senior Lily Cooper added 11 and junior Liz Barker finished with nine.

Stafford led the team in digs with 15, while Anna Woodward pitched in with 10. Woodward also did LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Kacie Stafford receives serve during the Ridgeview Jamboree on Thursday. Stafford led the Cowgirls in digs with 15 as the team went 3-1 at the event. a solid job of directing the Cowgirl offense, finishing with 32 assists.

Kenna Woodward added three blocks, while Barker finished with two.

"We tried four different lineups and got everyone on the floor," Struck said. "Everyone was positive and cheering for each other and it was a wonderful experience."

After more than a decade as an assistant coach to Rosie Honl, Struck did not coach last year after Honl retired, but agreed to take the head job this season.

When she took the job, Struck made it clear that her priority was to mold the girls into a team that got along with each other and had good character.

In order to accomplish that, she has already taken the team on a team bonding weekend as well has hosted swimming parties and other group events.

"I think that our younger girls feel more included and they feel more appreciated," Struck said. "And then, I think that if the girls get to know each other and spend some time with each other off of the court, it makes for better kids and it makes for a better time too. It's way more fun to play volleyball with your friends than with people you don't like."

After finishing third in the IMC a year ago with a 7-3 league record and a 20-12 overall mark, the Cowgirls qualified for the state tournament. However, for the first time in more than a decade, they failed to earn a trophy, going 0-2 at the tournament.

Struck hopes to bring the team back to the success that they enjoyed under Honl, but knows that there is still a lot of work to do before the team is ready to compete on the state level.

Still, she was pleased with what she saw on Thursday.

"I feel pretty comfortable in how we performed today," she said. "I'm not disappointed at all and it was a pleasant surprise to serve as well as we did. The kids all across the board are doing some good things. They are starting to pass well and taking care of the ball and it was great to have some good competition like that early in the season."

The Cowgirls lost just two players to graduation from a year ago. However, outsider hitter Raegan Wilkins, who led the team in kills a year ago, has elected not to play a fall sport this year, while setter Messina McClellan has switched to soccer.

As a result, the Cowgirls are still a young team with three sophomores and a freshman on their varsity roster.

The team opens the regular season tonight when they host Sisters in a 6 p.m. match.

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