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The Crook County Cowgirls and The Dalles Rivershawks battle on Thursday likely meant the league title for host squad

PMG PHOTO BY LON AUSTIN - Freshman Lillimae Brumble skies for a kill shot against The Dalles last ThursdayIt was a busy week for the Crook County Cowgirl volleyball team, a week filled with highs and lows.

Wednesday the Cowgirls steamrolled the Molalla Indians 25-17, 25-13, 25-4, then on Thursday, despite playing well at times, the Cowgirls were swept by The Dalles Riverhawks 25-23, 25-18, 28-26 in a match that probably decided the Tri-Valley Conference title.

Then, on Saturday, the Cowgirls struggled out of the gate at the Clearwater Classic, going just 1-2 in pool play before turning things around in bracket play, reaching the finals of their bracket before falling to Class 5A eighth-ranked South Albany.

The Cowgirls started slowly at home Wednesday, but steadily turned up the pressure on the Indians, as Crook County showed just how good they could be in the third and final set.

"It was pretty good," said defensive specialist Danner Hemphill of the match. "Molalla is probably one of the better teams in our league, so I feel like that game was a good win for us. Our practices have been very focused and we have been working hard as a team. I think we communicated very well tonight."

McKenzie Jonas finished the match with 18 kills, while Lillimae Brumble had 12. Callie Winebarger let the team with four service aces and both Joann McKinnon and Jonas added three. Jacey Ramoss directed the Crook County offense, finishing the set with 30 assists, while Hemphill and Jonas led the team with five digs apiece.

On the road on Thursday, Crook County came out on the short end of a match that had all the atmosphere of a playoff game. And, in many ways, that's exactly what the match was. After Crook County came back from a 2-0 deficit to win a five-set thriller a couple weeks earlier in Prineville, both teams went into Thursday's match knowing that the winner would most likely end up being the league champion. In the event of a tie for the Tri-Valley Conference championship, whichever team has the highest OSAA power ranking when the rankings are frozen would be declared the league champion. With The Dalles ranked third and Crook County sixth heading into the match, that meant that only a Crook County victory would give them the outright league championship.

Playing in front of a vocal crowd in a high intensity match the two teams slugged it out in a match that was worthy of a league championship.

"Your adrenaline goes up really high and you can't think in that kind of atmosphere, so that makes it really tough," said outside hitter Joann McKinnon. "We did good for three or four points and then we would go down and then we would bring it back up. It was like a roller coaster. We needed to stay steady"

Although at times Crook County played perhaps their best volleyball of the season, they also struggled with service errors and hitting errors. Riding the adrenaline of a raucous home crowd The Dalles played just well enough to defeat the Cowgirls.

The third set was particularly heartbreaking for the Cowgirls, who led 19-12 and had multiple chances to serve for the set win, but just couldn't get it done.

The win for The Dalles left the two teams tied for the conference league with identical 6-1 records. With The Dalles ranked higher than Crook County, and neither team likely to lose another league match, that leaves the Riverhawks as the presumptive league champions.

Once again, Jonas led the Crook County attack with 17 kills, while Brumble finished with nine, while Ramoss finished with 25 assists. Winebarger, McKinnon, and Jaycee Villastrigo each had three aces for the Cowgirls in the match.

On Saturday, the Cowgirls had a rough time of pool play at the Clearwater Classic, which was held at Bend Senior High, Mountain View, and Summit high schools. The Cowgirls had a tough pool, which included Class 6A No. 1-ranked Jesuit, a solid North Medford squad and Caldera.

The Cowgirls did not play well against either North Medford or Jesuit, falling 25-15, 25-19 to North Medford, then losing to Jesuit 25-10, 25-10. The team looked better in their final pool play match, defeating Caldera 25-14, 25-18.

In the bronze bracket at the tournament, the Cowgirls came to life, rolling past Redmond 25-11, 25-17, then defeating a solid Philomath team 25-20, 25-13 in the semifinals before finally falling 25-16, 27-26 to Class 5A seventh-ranked South Albany in the bracket finals.

"It was a total team effort," head coach Kristy Struck said of how the team did in bracket play.

Ramoss finished the day with 105 assists, while Jonas finished the day with 56 kills and Brumble had 24. Villastrigo led the Crook County defense with 53 assists, while Villastrigo also had 18 aces, Winebarger 13 and McKinnon 12.

Despite going 2-1 in bracket play, the Cowgirls still settled in the OSAA power rankings and are now seventh, while The Dalles, which did not play on Saturday, moved up to second.

Crook County plays at Gladstone tonight, then hosts Estacada on Thursday, before competing in the West Linn Invitational on Saturday.

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