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Defense has become a trademark of the program, and this year's team will carry that torch

LON AUSTIN - Joann McKinnon dives to keep a ball in play during a recent Cowgirl volleyball practice. Playing tough defense is something Crook County is becoming known for. Crook County has won a trophy at the state tournament in 14 of the last 15 years.

The Crook County High School volleyball team has high expectations for the 2021 season.

The Cowgirls won the Intermountain Conference regular season and post-season championships last spring, but due to COVID, there was no state playoff.

With just three players lost to graduation from last year's program, and a fourth player who transferred out, much of last year's district championship team is still intact.

"The expectation is to make it to state," head coach Kristy Struck said. "We are going to win league and make it to state this year. That is the expectation. We always want to win state; that is always our goal. We are working every day in practice to remember that so we are improving every drill, every touch."

There is a reason for that confidence. Crook County had earned trophies at state in 14 of the previous 15 years before there were no playoffs last year.

Unlike so many other sports programs around the state that are seeing fewer players than expected, the Cowgirls had so many players try out that they were forced to make cuts. And, Struck was pleased with the quality of the players that tried out

"We had lots of girls and lots of great talent," she said. "It was really difficult to make teams. I look at each team and I think to myself they could easily play on the next team up. There are so many girls that are even across the board that it made it really hard to decide who to put on which team. This was the most depth that we've had for years."

That depth should bode well for the program, not just this year, but for years to come.

Struch noted that not only does the team have depth, there has been fierce competition for positions at practice.

"The effort is absolutely amazing," she said. "The attitude is wonderful. We have some amazing teammates and positivity. There were a lot of broken hearts when we made teams and that shows me how much kids want to play."

One of the strengths of Cowgirl volleyball teams in the past has been their defensive prowess. This year should be more of the same, with the team relying on their defense to keep them in games, at least early in the season.

"Our defense is fast, quick, they have quiet bodies and they read the ball well," Struck said. "In addition to that, they have great communication and they enjoy playing defense, which is going to make us really scrappy."

Struck added that the strong defense is also going to help the team's offensive attack.

"It's going to give us time to keep the ball off the net and run anything we want offensively," she said. "Our serve receive is going to be a lot better than it has been in the past, so I'm looking forward to seeing what our hitters can do and what our setters can do with really good passes."

Struck added that what makes her most proud of her team is not just that they are good volleyball players, but what kind of people they are.

"They are kind, and that is what we look for in this program," she said. "My seniors are doing a great job of holding themselves accountable and putting out a great example of what we expect when you come to practice every day. I think that the people that we have playing right now in this program are doing a great job, and that is a credit to their parents, and it makes my job easier."

Despite having eight returning varsity players, the Cowgirls are still a relatively young squad, with just four seniors on the roster. Those seniors, Jenny McKinnon, Josie Kasberger, Kendall Maykutt and Mattee Simmons, are joined by juniors McKenzie Jonas and Jacey Ramoss, along with sophomores Jaycee Villastrigo and Alexys Wells, as athletes who also have varsity experience.

Crook County, which finished last year with a 13-2 record, opens the season with a match on Thursday, Aug. 26 at Burns. The team is on the road again on Thursday, Aug. 31 when they play at Sisters. The team's first home match is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 2 when they host Philomath.


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