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Annual tradition pits current varsity team against collection of former players

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - St. Paul 2019 graduate Sadie Smith (left) and 2009 graduate Julie Drescher (right) rise up to defend the net in the opening set of the Buckaroos 2019 alumni game on Thursday.On one side of the court stood the returning members of the 2018 1A State Champion St. Paul volleyball team — along with a handful of new members filling in the gaps left by last spring's graduating seniors.

On the other side stood those very same graduates, teamed with an assortment of past Buckaroos excited to lace up their shoes under the lights at St. Paul High School's gymnasium one more time.

The St. Paul volleyball program held its 2019 alumni game on Thursday, Aug. 29, hosting community members and past players in an annual contest to ring in the new volleyball season and celebrate the familial bond of the sport that links each class together through their shared experience at St. Paul High School.

"We really enjoy it," St. Paul head coach Les Hiller said. "It's really good to see all my other former players."

The 2019 alumni team consisted of four players from last year's state championship team — Megan Tuck, Hailey Farrell, Sadie Smith and Korina Rosas. Joining them were former Buckaroos Logan Robinson (2018), Abby Coleman (2017), Cassidy Merten (2016), Courtney Sakai (2016), Madison Caldwell (2014) and Hiller's daughter Ally Hiller (2012).

Every athlete had played under coach Hiller, many of whom played together on various teams throughout the past decade. The lone exception was Julie Drescher, the senior-most member of the alumni team who graduated in 2009, the year before Hiller took over the volleyball program.

"When I played, I didn't have this," Drescher said. "We're having so much fun. Lesli says the girls really enjoy it on the team."

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Libero Destiny Smith is one of six returning players from last years championship team eager to defend their title, and one of four seniors on the team including Erin Counts, Karlee Southerland and Isabelle Wyss.A member of this year's St. Paul School District 2019 Hall of Fame Class, Drescher was making her third appearance on the alumni team and was happy to do so.

"When I'm here and while I'm physically able, of course I'm going to use every opportunity I have," Drescher said. "I think it's a way to give back to the community continually. These girls appreciate it, and it's a good workout."

And much like every other alumni game in year's past, the current varsity program took home the victory, 3-0 (25-9, 25-13, 25-16).

"We won all of them," Hiller said. "But the first year, I think it went serious five, and they only had seven players. We won the first two, but then they came back and won the third, and it was like 'game on.'"

For Drescher, whose lengthy high school volleyball resume includes four all-league honors (Three First Team, one Second Team), First Team All-State, First Team All-Tournament and Casco League Player of the Year in 2008, the outcome is no surprise. The alumni team is pulled together from whoever is available in the summer with a few scant practice sessions to get ready for the game. Meanwhile, the current varsity team has been practicing every day for two straight weeks, and before that, had competed weekly in summer league.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - The annual alumni game has been the volleyball programs season-opening contest for the past six years, giving the Buckaroos an opportunity to begin the season with a festive spirit and celebrate past players."I don't even recall that we've ever won a set in an actual match," Drescher said. "But volleyball, rightfully so, is one of those sports that is so difficult to pick back up. It's timing and teamwork, and we're playing the defending state champions."

Drescher recently moved back from Colorado and was unable to watch the Buckaroos' championship run last year, so this marked her first opportunity getting to see the title team in person.

"It's pretty clear to me that they have fun while they're out there," she said. "Of course they're very competitive, and they want to get the job done, but you can see that when things go well, of course it's easy to have fun. They're a hard-working group girls."

The Buckaroos were scheduled to open the season Saturday in Mount Angel at Kennedy High School's season-opening tournament. The Bucks return for their home and league opener against Livingstone Adventist Academy on Thursday, Sept. 5.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Alumni teammates Megan Tuck (left) and Hailey Farrell (right) were part of last year's state championship team, the first title in school history for the St. Paul volleyball program.

Hall of Fame Induction

The 2019 St. Paul School District Hall of Fame Class will be inducted at halftime of the Buckaroos' Sept. 13 football game in a rematch of last November's title game against the Dufur Rangers. Along with Drescher, this year's inductees include Bill Gooding, the 1948 and 1949 football teams and the 1946 boys basketball team.

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