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Crook County wins in straight sets to wrap up second place in the Intermountain Conference

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Liz Barker goes up for one of her 11 kills against Redmond on Thursday night. The Cowgirls won the match in straight sets to finish in second place in the Intermountain Conference and earn a home playoff game this coming Saturday against a yet to be named opponent. Playing in front of a raucous crowd on homecoming night, the Crook County Cowgirls took care of business, dropping the Redmond Panthers in straight sets Thursday night to close out the regular season.

"We got a little bit of adrenaline going just because of the emotion and everything," said Crook County senior middle blocker Kenna Woodward following the match. "But I think that we played a lot better once we got going. The energy picked up a lot and we started playing together more."

With the Cowgirls starting all five of their seniors, the Panthers took an early lead and led most of the first set before the Cowgirls were able to eke out a close win. From then on, it was all Crook County as the Cowgirls rolled to a 25-23, 25-13, 25-11 win over the Panthers.

"It's difficult because we didn't start in our normal rotation," Crook County head coach Kristy Struck said of the slow start to the match. "I want all of my seniors on the court to start the game and that usually throws a little bit of a monkey wrench, but our girls are always able to pull it together and get a win, just like they did tonight."

After the Cowgirls took a slim early lead, the Panthers tied the match at 4-4. There were 11 ties in the opening set and the Panthers led for most of the set before the Cowgirls finally scored three of the final four points to take the set.

"I couldn't be more proud of them because they were behind for most of the set," Struck said. "Finally we were able to get into a groove, start serving the ball a little bit harder and putting the ball on the court."

After the shaky start, the Cowgirls dominated the remainder of the match.

Crook County rolled out to a 6-1 lead to start the second set and were never headed as they continued to extend their lead.

The Cowgirls jumped out to a 17-3 lead in the final set before emptying their bench. With mostly subs playing for the Cowgirls, the Panthers made a late run, but the set was never in doubt as the Cowgirls cruised to the win.

"I ask a lot of the team," Struck said. "And they fixed a lot of things tonight. Little things that I've been asking them to fix and they really did it tonight. I think that made the difference between the first game and the next two."

Kenna Woodward led the Cowgirls in kills with 14 while Liz Barker had 11 kills in just 17 attempts.

As a team, the Cowgirls went 67-73 from the service line, or approximately 92%, with 16 aces.

Lily Cooper was 13-14 with five aces, while Stormie Camara went 15-16 with four aces and Kacie Stafford was 14-15 with a pair of aces.

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Crook County senior setter Anna Woodward passes a ball during the third set of the Cowgirls' victory over Redmond on Thursday. Woodward is one of five seniors that the Cowgirls recognized prior to the start of the match. Stafford also led the Cowgirls in digs with 23.

With the win, Crook County improved to 7-3 in the Intermountain Conference and 19-8 overall. In addition, the Cowgirls moved up from sixth to fifth in the OSAA power rankings.

The team will find sometime late Tuesday night who they will play in the first round of the state playoffs. The match is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 2, but the opponent and game time are yet to be determined.

Both Woodward and Struck said that the Cowgirls still have work to do before the playoffs start.

"We are going to have to improve quite a bit," Woodward said. "We have to cut down on the errors and work on controlling the ball a little bit more. Just cutting down on the silly mistakes that we make every day, so we can play a perfect game at state."

"We have to keep working on all the little things," added Struck. "We have to work on taking care of fundamentals and really fine tuning."

Should the Cowgirls win that match they will advance to the state tournament, which will be held Friday and Saturday, Nov. 8-9 at Liberty High School in Hillsboro.

Class 5A matches begin at 1:15 p.m. on Friday.

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