Up for grabs

August 30, 2013 10:48 am

Old Oregon League teams looking to chase down defending state champions Powder Valley 

A power shift may be under way in the Old Oregon League this season. Powder Valley, last year’s state title winner, graduated two all-state players last season in Jessica Pedro, the Class 1A State Player of the Year, and Ali Abrego. Together they formed an a frontline that played for the state title three straight seasons.

It’s been a common theme for the Old Oregon League. Imbler won back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009 and played against the Badgers in last season’s state title game. Cove won the title in 2010, and finished in the top 14 last season. 

“I preach it everywhere I go,” Cove head coach Darcy Carreiro said. “Maybe a little too much at times. But the facts are there to back it up. It helps that the league is tough each year. Each coach in the league is willing to help each other out during the season and in the summer.”

It helps that Eastern Oregon is also home to a very good Class 2A conference, the Blue Mountain Conference.

It’s home to three teams that made the final eight, and add in Union for another top 16 school.

“It’s great to be able to schedule those non-league games,” Imbler head coach Jennifer Teeter said. “I think that’s what has helped our conference become so successful over the recent years. We’re seeing great competition all season long, whether it be in league play or non-league games.”

Badgers looking to reload

While everyone around the state is busy looking at what the defending state champions don’t have coming back this season, Powder Valley head coach Lasa Baxter is excited looking at the roster for this season.

“It’s no surprise,” Baxter said. “We lost two of the best in the state. You don’t necessarily replace that, but we have players who are ready to step into those two spots. It’s just a matter of getting the same consistency.”

The Badgers return five players with three years experience playing in the state title game, and seven return from last year’s team. 

But, they have a new motto, “New Year, New Team, Same Dream.”

“That’s all these girls know,” Baxter said. “They’re used to playing at a high level and I think that we’ll see that on the court this season.”

Alexandra Colton, a senior, may be leaned on more this season. The starting setter since her freshman season, Colton will now be taking swings on occasion.

“It may happen,” Baxter said. “She may not be the tallest player but she can jump. It’s a tough call because of what she does for our offense as a setter, but we’ll see.”

Mckinsey Hampton is another player that will be leaned on more this upcoming season. A mainstay in the front row last year, she didn’t take a lot of swings because the sets were going to Pedro and Abrego.

“Her maturity is really coming through so far this year,” Baxter said. “Her hitting and blocking have always been good, and she got a lot of work in this summer in leagues. It’s her leadership that we’re counting on this season. We need that from her.”

Along with Hampton, Baxter is looking for offense from Colton, Alyssa Aldrich, Taylor Martin and Sally Mary Blair. 

Jenna Aldrich, Alyssa Aldrich, Amy Eubanks and Amanda Feik round out the senior leadership for a team that went 24-2 last season.

“All the girls just need to find their niche,” Baxter said. “There’s a lot of talent there, and all the girls are excited for the challenge this season. It probably just won’t look the same as it did last season.”

Of the 24 wins last season, 18 were won in straight sets, and only two wins went more than four sets.

This season the offense may be taking more of a backseat, while the defense comes to the forefront. 

“Defense is certainly going to be more crucial,” Baxter said. “This league has offensive players, and our defense is going to need to keep volleys alive so that we can win points.”  

Panthers bring back strong core

 A team three points away from bringing home its third state title in five years returns a senior core that would make any head coach smile. For Jennifer Teeter, the Panthers head coach, she sees it as a challenge. 

“We have players that have been in the program and know what I expect out of them already,” Teeter said. “I have to push myself to find new things and build on what we’ve been doing.”

Numbers won’t be a problem for the Panthers, with 29 players coming out to volleyball this season. Many of those will have to wait to find time on the court. Imbler brings back six seniors.

“It’s hard to believe it’s here,” said Teeter, whose daughter is one of the six. “It’s made the start of the season very smooth. Everyone is following the seniors’ lead.”

Don’t think that the success this season and the loaded roster have Imbler on cruise control. Teeter and her team know that nothing is going to be handed to them this season.

“It’s a strong league, and everyone knows that,” Teeter said. “The top of the league is going to be tough and you can’t overlook anyone.

“Our goal is to stick to one game at a time, one match at a time. We’ve got goals that the team has set, but we have to stay focused in order to reach those goals.”

Outside hitters Jessica McDaniel, Ally Fullerton and Malia Mills, all listed at 5-feet, 8-inches, give the Panthers an experienced frontline. 

Jacey Teeter will be in charge of distributing the ball around the court again this season. Mills will also work in as a setter. 

Anchoring the middle again this season is 6-foot Stephanie McGilvray. 

Plenty of depth looms behind those six seniors. 

Juniors Emma Bowers, Katie Barry and Savanna Mularkey will rotate in to the frontline to keep players fresh, along with sophomore Karigan Wilhelm and freshman Hannah Wilhelm. 

“It’s a good problem to have,” Teeter said. “The key is making sure that the players rotating in get enough swings in game situations.”

That leads to the one thing Teeter wishes her team had more of — time. With just a week and half from the opening practice to the first competition the reps for everyone are hard to come by.

“I wish there was more practice time,” Teeter said. “It takes time to evaluate who’s doing what and what we need to work on. Then you need time to correct those things. 

“We have a tough schedule to open up the season, so I wish we had a little more time to prepare.”

Cove coming back stronger

The Leopards return hungry to get the season going after falling to Hosanna Christian in the second round of the playoffs, 3-1, landing them in the top 14 teams in the state. 

“We lost a lot of games by two or three points last season,” Darcy Carreiro said. “Some of it came down to mental toughness, but a lot of it was conditioning. The girls took the offseason very serious this season, getting into the gym a lot. I talk a lot about our team getting bigger, and one area is the weight room.”

Cove returns a strong core of upperclassmen, led by senior Mikayla Murchison. The 5-foot-10 outside hitter underwent surgery on her knee last season, which sidelined her during the second half of the basketball season. 

“Mikayla is a natural leader on the court,” Carreiro said. “She’s over the injury mentally and physically. Her goal is to leave a strong impression this season. It’s her senior year and she doesn’t want to leave anything out on the court.”

Fortunately, Murchison doesn’t have to do it alone at the net. Juniors Hannah and Hailey Hulse will be right there on the attack. Hannah will be what Carreiro labeled one of the “big guns.”

“Hannah lives and breathes volleyball,” Carreiro said. “She’s one of the girls that took the offseason workouts very serious. Her goal is to play college ball, so she’s making a strong effort to get there.”

Hailey is recovering from a knee surgery in June. She’ll serve as the anchor of the frontline, playing the middle position.

“We just kind of threw her to the sharks as a freshman, and she’s come a long way,” Carreiro said. “She’s still green in her recovery from surgery, but she’s an important part of our defense. Hailey led the team in blocking and was at the top of the league in that category, too.”

Of course all the hitters in the world don’t mean a thing without someone who can distribute the ball. That’s where junior Kendra Moore enters the picture. She does it on the basketball court, dishing out assists to her teammates, and now she’ll be doing it on the volleyball court.

“Kendra is so quick,” Carreiro said. “Fundamentally she is super strong. She knows how to move the ball around to the other hitters when the time is right. She’s quiet, but Kendra is a leader out on the court.”

The Leopards have plenty of other players to fill out the rotation. Built on the family mentality as a team, everyone is rooting for each other. 

“It comes down to trusting your teammates,” Carreiro said. “One of the things we need to work on is being more consistent with that part of the game. Sometimes the girls are in the right spot to make a play but are unsure about it. We just need to trust in each other and have them each trust in their own skills.”