If there was ever a time to displace Crook Co., it is now

Photo Credit: JEFF WILSON/THE PIONEER - Elle Renault, left, and Taylor Sjolund are part of a deep senior class that feels like a state title is a real possibility this year.If there was ever a year where everything was to fall in place for the Madras volleyball team, 2014 might be it.

There are a lot of things that have to happen in order for a team in any sport to win it all. You must have the right coach, the right group of kids, the schedule needs to fall the right way, injuries need to not happen, and upsets that do not include you are always good. The list can go on and on.

But for the White Buffalos, that list is already starting to fall into place.

“Right now, our goal is that we want state,” senior Elle Renault said. “We want to take it more than anything.”

There is not cockiness to anything Renault said; it comes more from a senior that sees a state title there for the taking. And in her eyes, and most of her teammates', there is good reason to think that way.

Consider the following facts:

The Buffs return a strong and talented lineup that includes seven seniors who have all seen extended court time and two of those, Shelby Mauritson and Alexis Urbach, have committed to play at the college level.

Crook County, the eight-time defending 4A champ looks to be at its weakest point in the last decade, if you could ever call the Cowgirls weak. The team lost a couple of key players and will be young, but still the team to beat.

And beat them Madras did, over the summer during camps. It might not mean much, but confidence in any form can be a big thing.

And heading into this week’s season-opening jamboree, the Buffs are full of confidence.

“State is, this year, achievable, it’s achievable,” Renault said. “And if we come together as a team, we will most definitely be there.”

That kind of attitude could make a coach cringe, especially one that grew up in the Crook County program and knows it almost as well as anyone. But second-year coach Rhea Cardwell actually encourages it.

“I love it, I love it,” she said. “I love that definitiveness in our goals and I think it is absolutely obtainable by this team. We have to, like any other team, work our way there, nothing is going to come to us. But as long as we continue to keep our mental focus, and keep our chemistry in the right place, it is absolute an achievable goal for us.”

Madras is coming off one of its best seasons in years, having rolled to the 4A Tri-Valley Conference title with a perfect 10-0 mark. But an unforeseen hiccup in the first round of the state plays ended the Buffs' season, and they’ve had nine months to think about it.

But they also have a new reason to be a little more excited about the upcoming season: those dreaded Cowgirls, their main and most hated rivals, have landed in the TVC. Now the twice-a-year matches the two schools have played in the past, will mean even more.

“I’m pretty stoked about it,” Urbach said. “We know we have a good chance to beat them if we come together as a team and play like we know how. If we just play as a team, and play like we know how, worry about our side of the net, we should be pretty good.”

Actually, the Buffs should be really good. There is talent up and down the net.

Urbach is headed to play at Division I University of California, Riverside next year. Mauritson, all-state and the TVC player of the year last year, will sign with DII Central Washington later this fall. Renault, the team’s setter, is looking at schools in the Midwest.

The talent is there. Cardwell just hopes their heads are there as well.

“We are working on our team chemistry. We have tons of skill and tons of talent, so what that requires, especially in volleyball since it is such a team sport … is working on that team chemistry,” Cardwell said. “The girls really getting to know each other and getting to know how to play well together is key. We have several girls that have played together for a long, long time, but it takes six to eight people to have a successful volleyball team. So we have this wonderful, big varsity team, so we have to make sure that everyone is incorporated and a part of that strong team chemistry so we can move forward toward our goals.”

Cardwell said this team, for the first time, has the potential to not only play with the great teams, but beat them. The Buffs just need to get on the court and play like they can.

It’s something she calls mental freedom and the team seems to have grasped the concept.

“It’s our time, it’s Madras’ time,” Mauritson said. “In past years, we’ve had talent or we’ve had drive, but this team has everything. So I’m so excited because I think this year is the year we can take it from anyone. Finally, have our banner up there.”

Quick facts

Last season: 13-11 overall, 10-0 in 4A Tri-Valley Conference, qualified for state playoff, but lost to Philomath in first round.

Key returners: Shelby Maurtison, Elle Renault, Alexis Urbach.

New this year: The TVC has a new lineup this year, La Salle and North Marion are out and Crook Country and Corbett are in.

Key games: Road matches at Crook County Sept. 16 and at Estacada Sept. 25, and homes match with Crook County Oct. 2 and Estacada Oct. 14.

Season outlook: If there was ever a year for someone to break Crook County’s hold on the 4A title, it is this year. And that team is Madras. Loaded with talented seniors who are hungry for a state crown, the White Buffalos are confident enough to make this their year.

2014 schedule*

September 4

La Ggrande at Madras, 4 p.m.

Sisters at Madras, 6 p.m.

September 6

Madras at Cascade, 9 a.m.

September 8

Madras at Culver, 6 p.m.

September 10

Ridgeview at Madras, 5 p.m.

September 10

Redmond at Madras, 6 p.m.

September 11

Madras at Burns, 6 p.m.

September 16

Madras at Crook County, 6 p.m.

September 18

Madras at Corbett, 6 p.m.

September 20

Madras at Sisters, 8 a.m.

September 23

Madras at Molalla, 6 p.m.

September 25

Estacada at Madras, 6 p.m.

September 30

Madras at Gladstone, 6 p.m.

October 2

Crook County at Madras, 6 p.m.

October 4

Madras at Junction City, 9 a.m.

October 6

Corbett at Madras, 6 p.m.

October 8

Molalla at Madras, 6 p.m.

October 14

Madras at Estacada, 6 p.m.

October 15

Gladstone at Madras, 6 p.m.

October 18

Madras at Corbett, 6 p.m.

*subject to change

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