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Spirits high at St. Paul volleyball after tournament showdown vs. Kennedy at McKay

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - St. Paul incoming junior Jordan Caldwell and the Buckaroos fell 2-0 to the Kennedy Trojans in the championship game of the McKay High School summer volleyball tournament last week.The St. Paul volleyball team may have gone undefeated in 2018, but with a new season around the corner, all those old records go out the window and every team starts new once again.

The Buckaroos got a rare taste of defeat last week at the McKay summer volleyball tournament, falling 2-0 in the championship game to the former Tri-River League rival Kennedy Trojans.

"It's always fun to play Kennedy and we look forward to it every time," St. Paul head coach Lesli Hiller said. "They're very competitive and the speed of their game is quick, which we love."

St. Paul took advantage of a number of uncharacteristic violations from the Trojans to take a 15-5 lead in the first set, but Kennedy came charging back to take the win 25-23 and went on to win the second set 25-19 to hand the Bucks the loss.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Senior Destiny Smith returns as one of four upperclassmen who make up the core of St. Pauls returning volleyball players."We were excited to play them in the championship and obviously wish it would have gone a different way, but we're ok with that and hopefully we'll meet them again in the regular season," Hiller said. "If you're going to lose, summer is the time to lose."

While the Trojans were able to get some rest between games in the eight-team, single elimination tournament, the Bucks had no such advantage.

Moments after defeating the 5A Dallas Dragons 2-0 in the quarterfinals, St. Paul turned around and played the 6A North Salem Vikings. After dropping the first set to the Vikings 27-25, the Bucks returned the favor, winning back-to-back sets to eliminate the Vikes and face Kennedy in the finals.

"Once we learned their team, we were able to shut them down," Hiller said. "All three of our matches were played back-to-back-to-back. We didn't get a break."

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - After playing her first two years for the Gervais Cougars, junior outside hitter Mary Davidson transferred to St. Paul over the summer.After the tournament, Hiller was proud of how her squad played, not just that day, but across the whole summer series that was hosted at McKay High School in Salem on Tuesdays and Thursdays in July.

Between work, vacation and other commitments, the Buckaroos rarely had the same players from game-to-game, let alone have time to actually practice. To play as well as they did while working to replace six seniors from last year and incorporating new players to the team over the summer, Hiller was impressed to say the least.

"As we know, we have some key position we're replacing this year, so for those kids to rise up and compete in those new positions for them, and have those returners playing at that same level as well, I couldn't be prouder of what they were able to accomplish," she said.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - St. Paul senior middle blocker Erin Counts will serve as the first line of defense for the Buckaroos next season.In addition to upcoming players learning the speed of the varsity game, the Bucks also welcomed incoming junior Mary Davidson, who transferred to St. Paul from Gervais over the summer.

Davidson will plug in at outside hitter for the Bucks this year and was getting familiar to her new teammates on the fly.

"She's been very positive and coachable and willing to work on whatever it takes, so we've just really enjoyed working with her," Hiller said. "She's playing the same position she played before, but it's different than what she's played before."

Davidson's sister, freshman Annabelle Davidson, along with sophomore Ainsley Goughnour — the lone freshman on the St. Paul varsity team last year — also got to see significant playing time in the tournament.

"(Goughnour) was a really good setter for our JV last year," Hiller said. "She's also good on defense and played libero in club. Defensively, she's been coming in and helping us out."PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - The Buckaroos celebrate winning the first set in their 2-0 win over the Dallas Dragons in the opening round of the McKay summer volleyball tournament.

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