September 12, 2003 11:00 pm
ONE OF THE BEST: Powder Valley's Joelle Bain put up some amazing statistics in the postseason last season as the Badgers made a run deep into the state playoffs. She is back this year. (The Observer/File photo).
ONE OF THE BEST: Powder Valley's Joelle Bain put up some amazing statistics in the postseason last season as the Badgers made a run deep into the state playoffs. She is back this year. (The Observer/File photo).

By Pierre LaBossire

Observer Staff Writer

The Old Oregon League is recognized as one of the strongest 1A volleyball leagues in the state.

Two years ago, Cove came out of the OOL to win the state championship, while the Leopards' league rival Powder Valley came in second.

Last season, Cove came in second at the state championship, while Powder Valley came in fourth. And neither one of those teams even won the OOL championship — that honor went to Wallowa.

Both Wallowa and Cove have graduated a lot of players from last year's powerhouse teams. Powder Valley is bringing back the biggest number of players.

Don't feel sorry for Cove

Cove also has a new coach, Darcy Johnson, who was an assistant coach on the team the past several years.

Cove graduated seven seniors, including all-league stars Lisa Scheele, Kathy Mann and Kelcie Robinson.

However, Johnson stressed that Cove is still going to be strong, and she expects people are going to be surprised.

"We don't mind being the underdog. A lot of people think we've lost everything," she said.

Returning to the team are Kathy and Lisa's younger sisters, Kara Mann and Julia Scheele, as well as Jeneal Gugin, Jessie Johnson, Jessica Cain and Ashley Holland.

Johnson said that while these players don't have a lot of starting varsity experience, they have played tons of volleyball. They were merely just waiting behind the Leopards' "Big Three."

"They have a lot of experience and energy. They've been playing a lot of summer ball," coach Johnson said. "I really have confidence in them. We've set our goals really high. We are shooting for postseason and state."

Johnson said Scheele will be a defensive specialist, while Mann will step into the setters' role. "She's one of the best setters I've ever coached," said Johnson.

Moving up from junior varsity are Alison Tanaka, Karen Myhrum, Adella Carey, Cassie Mills and Kinsey Keagle. A freshman, Christina McGilvary, will also get some varsity time.

A newcomer to the Leopards is an exchange student from Germany, Christin Semmler. Old Oregon League teams better get used to seeing a lot of 6-foot-tall Semmler, as she led the Leopards in kills in their opening-season win over Crane.

Powder Valley looks strong

Powder Valley finished strong at state the past two years, and the Badgers didn't lose that much firepower off last year's squad.

Coach Molly Smith acknowledged that with the large number of returning players, Powder Valley probably will be looked at as one of the league's frontrunners. Only Jenny Dayhoff and Chelsi Pedro graduated off last year's team.

The Badgers got off to a nice start this season, winning the Prairie City tournament.

"Our passing is a lot better than last year," said Smith. "It makes it easier on our setter. They're very coachable and open to new things."

Smith did think the Badger girls struggled with their serving in Prairie City, so this is something she wants the team to work on.

Returning is senior Joelle Bain, who carried the Badgers on her back through the postseason last year.

Lacey Lyman and Kali Miller are also back. Miller had a huge weekend in Prairie City.

Also returning is outside hitter Hailee Bingham. Caitlyn Miguez will be a defensive specialist and Heather Tittle will be the setter.

Smith said she is excited about what this experienced team might be capable of, but she and her players don't want to get caught looking too far ahead. The Badgers have a tough OOL schedule to get through before even thinking about making a postseason run.

"I'm not a believer in counting chickens before they're hatched," she said.

Wallowa mix of experience, youth

Wallowa has four returning varsity players — Megan McLain, Lynique Oveson, Katie Sturtevant and Amber Josi — from last year's league champion.

"We lost a bit, but we returned quite a bit, too," said coach Terri Wilson. "There's a couple of areas we still need a lot of polishing. (But) this team can be very competitive."

Wilson also said this is a close group of girls who have been playing together for a long time.

The Cougars graduated a total of seven seniors, including several starters from last year — Sarah Bomberger, Sandra Deal, Holli Barton and Amanda Wilson.

But, Oveson, a solid all-around athlete, and McLain have stepped in to take over the frontline duties. They tallied 12 and 13 kills, respectively, at the Weston Tournament last weekend. Wallowa had a very solid tournament, finishing second against some stiff competition.

Also on the varsity team are juniors Megan Haga and Wendy Spaur. Wallowa will be a bit thin, as the rest of the squad — Emily Isley, Lindsey Easom, Leah Pringle and Crista Bomberger — will switch between varsity and junior varsity.

Wilson points to a Sept. 19 match versus a strong and experienced Powder Valley squad as a key date for this still-jelling team. That match is in Wallowa.

"We'll find out where we stand then," said Wilson.