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STORIES OF THE YEAR

A look back at the area's top sports stories of 2004

by: TIM STUMM/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Melanie Ceciliani, far left, Shayna Severance and Heather Gerke listen in as assistant Joel Kent talks strategy at this year's state tournament. The Cowgirls took fifth at the event, the highest finish of any team in program history.

1. The Crook County volleyball team
   Perfection occurred on a windy October night in the Crook County High School gymnasium.
   Making the task look almost easy, the Cowgirls swept the visiting Lava Bears in three sets to earn their 16th conference victory in a row and finish the league season an unprecedented 16-0.
   The Cowgirls, however, weren't done. A few weeks later, they opened the 4A state championships with a thrilling 2-1 victory over Gresham. The eight-time champion Gophers were sent reeling into the consolation bracket while the Crook County Cowgirls went on to take fifth in the tournament - marking the first time ever in program history that a team would return to Prineville with hardware.
   The Cowgirls efforts did not go unnoticed. They nabbed two all-state selections (Rhea Wortman, first team, and Kimber Duncan, honorable mention) and boasted the conference's best player (Wortman) and coach (Rosie Honl) of the year as well.
   To top it all off, they recorded the highest composite G.P.A of any 4A volleyball team in the state.
   
   2. Ben Neasham crowned state champion
   With a bandage wrapped around his face and his weight supported by two of his coaches, wrestler Ben Neasham looked like he had just gone to war, rather than just won a state championship.
   The truth is, he had survived a battle. The 125-pound Crook County junior overcame a 2-0 deficit to nudge rival Redmond grappler Ryan Enoch in overtime in the state title match last February.
   In a match that was stopped several times to clot Neasham's bleeding face, the epitome of Cowboy wrestling was exlemplified at its finest.
   
   3. Clint Corey inducted into ProRodeo Hall of Fame
   One of the nicest guys in rodeo earned one of its highest honors this August when he was in ducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.
   In a career that has spanned almost two decades, the 43-year old bareback rider from Powel Butte has qualified for the National Finals Rodeo 18 times and has amassed more than $1.8 million.
   Corey talked about retiring this fall then placed first at the Columbia River Circuit Finals in Redmond last month - thus quallifying him for the Dodge National Circuit Finals in Pocatello, Idaho this March. Corey has yet to decide if he will compete.
   
   4. Cowboys lose to Bend, miss playoffs
   After a 44-43 last second victory over Mountain View, the Crook County boys basketball team, who were 6-7 at the time, should have been happy just to be in the position they were - one game away from the 4A state playoffs. The Cowboys weren't about to settle for mediocrity, however. Despite playing their second game in as many nights, the cagers came out of the gate roaring, jumping to a lead over the heavily favored Bend Lava Bears (10-3). The Cowboys battled to a 39-33 advantage and were three and a half minutes away from clinching a playoff berth when they collapsed.
   Suddenly nerves and exhaustion got the best of them and Bend went on an 18-5 run to finish the game. With a 51-44 victory, Bend clinched the No. 3 playoff spot while the season was over for the Cowboys.
   
   5. Backman hired, then fired
   Just four days after he was hired to manage the Arizona Diamondbacks, Prineville resident Wally Backman was relieved of his duties.
   In the days following the initial announcement, reports of Backman's troubling past began to surface in newspapers across the country. The Diamondback's eventually succumbed to national pressure and picked former Mariner's manager Bob Melvin to replace Backman.
   A two-time minor league manager of the year, Backman guided the Diamondback's Class A affiliate Lancaster JetHawks this past season to the Southern Division crown. It is unknown where he will coach next.