By C.J. Gish
Observer Staff Writer
If theres a grudge match to be settled this season, it will happen between two volleyball teams from Union County.
Cove, winners of its first Old Oregon League title last year 1987, lost to Powder Valley in the district tournament semifinals, losing out on a state-tournament berth.
Powder Valley went on to take fifth at the Class 1A State Tournament.
Both teams return several key players and the table is set for another battle atop the OOL.
On Friday, Cove travels to Ione and Powder Valley hosts Condon.
Playoff experience was the only thing Cove lacked last year.
Now that they have it, the Leopards figure on making a bid for their first state-tournament berth since 1987.
Well go a long ways, and we have the confidence to do that, fourth-year Cove coach Kim Tally said. Last year, it was a new environment for us (at district) and it took its toll on us.
It marked the first time since 1997 that Cove had advanced to the district tournament after posting a 9-1 first-place Old Oregon League record. Cove finished 19-5 overall and third at district.
Returning from last year are all-league juniors Kelcie Robinson, Lisa Scheele and Melissa Smith.
Robinson, a middle hitter, led Cove with 88 kills and 80 blocks. Scheele, who moves from outside hitter to setter, had 78 kills and 56 blocks. She will play outside hitter occasionally, Tally said.
Smith is a back-row specialist and outside hitter who had 25 kills.
Other players back from last years squad are senior back-row specialist Jennifer Johnson and junior outside hitter/back-row specialist Amy Puckett.
That leaves Cove with a large group of younger players who will be big additions.
The list includes junior middle hitter/setter Kathy Mann and sophomores Jessica Johnson (setter), Jeneal Gugin (middle hitter), Kimber Warnock (setter) and freshman Ashley Holland (middle hitter).
Cove also acquired sophomore back-row specialist/outside hitter Kellie Faulkner, a transfer from Carson City, Nev.
Shes played quite a bit of club ball and had varsity experience (in Carson City) last year, Tally said.
This is a fun group of girls to be with. They have a lot of mental toughness and are really focused. The know what they have to do to get the job done.
With everyone in the league losing large groups of seniors, Powder Valley instead returns seven.
The Badgers, who finished 17-10 overall and placed fifth at the state tournament, are loaded with talent and experience from last years squad that went 6-4 for third place in the OOL and won the district title.
I feel we should be right there at the top of our league, third-year Powder Valley coach Jane Wisdom said. We lost only one player, so theres no reason we shouldnt return to state. I feel comfortable being right there at the top of the pack.
And she should
Coming back are all-league seniors Amanda Bingham, Cali Taylor, Ashley Wisdom, Lacey Kasper and Sami Wendt.
Bingham, an outside hitter, led the Badgers with 161 kills. Taylor, at middle hitter, had 75 kills and 63 blocks. Wendt, another outside hitter, had 99 kills and 31 blocks. Setters Wisdom and Kasper had 144 and 136 assists.
Other players returning include seniors Jayme Simonis (middle hitter), and Amie Russell (outside hitter), juniors Chelsi Pedro (setter/defensive specialist) and Jenny Dayhoff (outside hitter) and sophomore Joelle Bain (front row).
The final two varsity spots havent been decided yet, but the battle will be fierce among a large group of sophomores who played junior varsity last year.
We have the hitters, blockers and the experience that will help us, Wisdom said. Were ready to start now.