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Pandemic concerns prompt changes with popular team camp; other programs active

LON AUSTIN - Defensive specialist Kaccie Stafford stretches for a return. The senior is thrilled that the volleyball program is back on the court after coronavirus condtions delayed program activities.

After losing the entire spring sports season due to COVID-19, Crook County High School athletic teams are once again practicing.

Since June, teams from Crook County High School have been participating in conditioning drills and open gym activities.

Starting last Friday and running through Sunday was the annual Crook County High School volleyball team camp.

Historically, this camp invites some of the top teams in the country to Crook County. However, last year the Cowgirls participated in the camp alone.

This year was more of the same, as COVID-19 made it logistically impossible to bring more teams to town.

"Sports is my life, so it's definitely a big deal," said senior three-sport athlete Liz Barker during a break in the volleyball camp. "I'm very excited that things are getting back to normal and hopefully will become more normal later. There are a few people who are coming back lazy, but for the most part people are excited to come back and go back to sports and play again."

Crook County head coach Kristy Struck agreed.

"I'm just excited to be back to the gym, just like the girls are, and it's so pleasant to see all of that joy," she said. "I've never seen kids have so much fun. Everyone just seems to be so happy to be hanging out with their friends and practice instead of staying home."

Crook County High School has put several things in place in order to protect the health of athletes. Volleyballs are sterilized with an ozone sterilizer several times a day. Instead of having multiple partners for drills, athletes are staying with the same partner the entire day to minimize contact with other individuals and, of course, there are constant reminders to social distance.

In addition, coaches are required to wear masks during practice and players are staying on just one court instead of switching from court to court, to keep contact with other individuals to a minimum.

In spite of the strain that COVID-19 is putting on practices, Struck said that she was pleased with how the team camp went.

"Attitudes have been great and it's been wonderful," she said. "I don't use the camp as an evaluation tool. This is about getting the girls touches, coaching the fundamentals and it's about them coming together as a team. So, while we do a lot of drills, it is really about them learning how to work together and then just kind of discovering who each other is."

Struck added that of the 25 to 30 athletes participating in the camp several are freshmen, who need to learn the program's expectations and get to know the other players.

"We have a lot of new faces, a lot of freshmen, so they need to learn all of the ends and outs," she said. "It is and it will continue to be one of our goals to make better humans. I think that's what high school sports is all about. Teaching them not only how to work with a team, but teaching them how to be kind and how to participate in a way that is cooperative and also just feels good."

In order to help players get to know each other, campers participated in a game of charades, wrote personal goals for the season, discussed what it means to be a good teammate and went over the program's expectations, as well as participating in volleyball drills and games.

The emphasis was on fun, but also on good technique.

In order to help reinforce good technique, former CCHS athlete Makayla Lindburg helped run the camp. Lindburg, who graduated in 2013, competed on four CCHS state championship teams as well as playing collegiate volleyball at University of Portland and Eastern Oregon University. She also briefly played professional volleyball in Europe.

"I think it's nice for kids to see what happens if you work really hard and you want to continue to play," Struck said of Lindburg's participation in the camp. "How far can I go, what can I do and if you love volleyball enough, there are lots of opportunities to play after high school. It's also nice to have a kid come back and just give back to the program and want ot continue to make Cowgirls better every year."

In addition, former Crook County head coach Rosie Honl also helped with the camp.

Struck said that she was pleased with how much improvement she saw during the three days of the camp, as well as how well the athletes meshed with each other. Although camp is over, that doesn't mean that the Cowgirls are done preparing for the fall season.

"I think it's important because it's kids coming together and forming teams," said senior Syrie Ossenkop of the camp. "It's getting to know the players that are going to be on their teams in the season and it's getting back in the gym and getting their skills down and just having fun."

The Cowgirls have been running open gyms Monday and Wednesday evening from 5 to 7 p.m. with any girls interested in volleyball invited to attend. In addition, Struck noted that head track and field coach Ernie Brooks is running a conditioning program Monday and Tuesday mornings from 8 to 9:15 a.m.

Volleyball players are encouraged to attend the conditioning.

"In fact, if 50 girls show up, Ernie is going to make breakfast," Struck said, trying to encourage more athletes to attend.

Struck was quick to add that currently between 30 and 40 athletes participate in the conditioning program with girls making up the majority of the participants as football is running their own conditioning program.

Senior defensive specialist Kacie Stafford said that it was really important for people to participate in the camp and open gyms.

"We haven't been able to get in the gym as much as we would like to," she said. "We usually start our practices in March, but we couldn't start until June this year, so that is a setback, but we are very lucky to be practicing and preparing for the season. I think we have put a lot of hours in over the last month and I think that we are making up for lost time and we are going to come back strong."

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