Ashland volleyball title hopes fade in state semis

HILLSBORO — Experience, playoff background and even a little intimidation came together to end the Ashland Grizzlies' run to the Class 5A volleyball state title Friday at Liberty High School.

After a four-game afternoon win over St. Helens, the Grizzlies ran straight into three-time defending state champion Crook County and lost in three straight, 25-14, 25-12, 25-18.

The Grizzlies got nine kills from Niki Small, eight kills from Ila Sturges, six kills and 13 digs from Hayley Ross and 22 assists from Callie McCoy, but the Cowgirls still cruised into the state final, where they'll meet Intermountain Conference rival Summit of Bend.

Summit beat Sherwood, 25-12, 25-19, 25-10, in the other semifinal. Ashland will play Sherwood for third place at 2:15 p.m. Crook County and Summit meet at 6 p.m.

"We thought we had a chance, that we were pretty evenly matched," said Small, one of seven seniors on the Ashland roster. "But, it just didn't come together, we didn't play our game."

"Just the name Crook County is pretty impressive," McCoy said. "They've won a lot of matches, they've got a legacy that everyone knows about.

"We've won a lot of big matches, too, but we just couldn't get relaxed and play the way we can."

Ashland struggled with players frequently bumping into one another on defense and couldn't find an answer to Crook County's use of a simple tip over a defensive block.

"Crook County and Summit both come from a really strong conference, and you can tell that by how they play," Ashland coach Jodee Scott said. "We didn't play well, like we can, and they had a lot to do with that. We might have been a little intimidated by them."

Crook County led 17-8 in both the first and second games when the Grizzlies put together short rallies to make the final score at least respectable. Scott then challenged her players before the third game and they were within 17-16 when Crook County reeled off six straight points and effectively ended the match.

"The girls are all very disappointed with the outcome, and I told them they could be emotional tonight and get that out," Scott said.

"But (Saturday) is about volleyball. We can end the season with a win and I know that's going to be motivation for our seniors."

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