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La Grande Observer Daily Paper 07/28/14

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By Joe Sova

Sports Editor

Not to be intimidated by Class 4A Pendleton, La Grande boun-ced back from a first-game volleyball loss to claim a victory in the Tigers' regular season opener Thursday on their home court.

Pendleton pulled away late in the first game, earning a 25-20 win. But La Grande showed its resiliency, taking the next three games, 25-18, 25-13, 25-20.

"I'm proud of the girls," La Grande coach Teresa Dowdy said. "They held their composure. They played aggressively."

After the Tigers had evened the best three-of-five match at a game apiece, Darcy Dolge provided a spark midway through the third set – serving points 16 through 24 while keeping the Buckaroos off balance.

"The key was that we won the long rallies," Dowdy said. "That was a plus."

Kathryn Ely led La Grande with 14 kills and four blocks, while Morgan Bonney added a dozen kills and four blocks. Dolge supplied six kills and was 20-for-20 serving. Jenna Jensen had five kills. Laura Martin was 15-for-16 from the service line, with a pair of aces.

Dowdy had praise for the setting of Jensen and Martin.

"They did a good job of putting the ball in the hands of the players who needed it," the coach said.

Dowdy was pleased with the Tigers' overall play at the net.

"We had a lot of touches on blocks," she said. "We were aggressive at the net ... We were tough against them (the Buck-aroos) at the net."

La Grande is back in action Saturday at a tournament in Walla Walla.

Tigers seek state berth

La Grande finished second in the Greater Oregon League last year behind Burns. Baker was third. The Tigers were in a very tough pool at the state tournament, winning just one of three matches and failing to qualify for bracket play. They took in a shining 35-3 record.

"It was disappointing and we want to make sure that we learn from that and we don't let it happen to us this year," Dowdy said.

Estacada won the 3A state championship, beating Burns. LaSalle was third, and Marist finished fourth.

With Vale dropping to 2A, the GOL has just six schools this season.

All-state senior Kathryn Ely is the only returning starter for La Grande, but Dowdy has been able to fill in around her – using good team height.

"The kids are so close in ability that everybody is working hard every day to earn a spot," Dowdy said. "That's a plus because it brings up the level of play for everyone."

Complementing Ely at the net will be Dolge and Bonney, both juniors. Hitting from the outside will be senior Ashleigh Wilson, and junior Abby Kenny, Jenny Clemens and Danielle Kelley, according to Dowdy.

Setting the table for the hitters will be seniors Martin and Jensen, and junior Miles.

"They're seeing the court well," Dowdy said.

The coach said the Tigers have been working on court coverage and speeding up the offense to give them more attack options, including the use of a quick offense.

Defense has also been a focus.

"I think that's going to be a big key for us," Dowdy said. "We are strong offensively and I think we're going to surprise some people because we're pretty scrappy."

La Grande is no doubt a favorite in the league. Dowdy expects Burns to be strong again, as well as Baker and Ontario.

"I'm optimistic that we're going to be at the top," Dowdy said. "The kids have been really dedicated and worked really hard this summer and that pays off."

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