Cougars take on big programs from across the West Coast, fine-tune skills as playoffs approach

PIONEER PHOTO: CONNER WILLIAMS - Country Christina senior Mollie Lewandowski (16) and junior Sarah Phillips (23) prepare to set up to defend a point against Valor Christian earlier this season.

As if the Cougars needed any more reasons to be considered the top pick for many to repeat as Class 1A volleyball state champions again this year, they gave potential doubters another one as they took on some big teams at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix, Arizona last weekend.

Country Christian, who was by far the smallest school represented at the event, held their own against some significantly large programs from across the west coast in the two day tourament, including Enumclaw (WA), Acalanes (CA), St. Margaret's Episcopal (CA), and Maranatha (CA) in best-of-two match play.

Against St. Margaret's in their first of four matches on Sept. 30, the Cougars fought a close battle, eventually falling 25-20, 25-20, showing they can compete with those bigger programs.

Next up after a short break, the Cougars took on Maranatha and turned up the heat, winning the first set 25-22 and pushing the second set, eventually falling 26-24 to force a tiebreaker third set. Country Christian came out on top and won 15-13 to win the game 2-1.

"It was a fantastic tournament," head coach Janin McGrath said. "And it was exactly what our group needed; the competition was great. We were, by far, the smallest school there."

McGrath said the biggest benefit the team sees as a result of playing in tournaments like this one is the increase in their speed.

"We come home a lot faster as a team," she said. "Our players learn to not take breaks mid-rally or they find themselves quickly out of position."

"The difference in our play on Saturday versus Friday was night and day; Sierra Ross, Debby Grandle, Katie Sandberg, and Sarah Phillips probably saw the most personal growth over the two days, and we saw the exhaustion point for Mollie Lewandowski, Meghan McGrath, and Jasmine Griffith; that group saw a majority of the playing time."

The Cougars still remain undefeated in league after starting off 5-0, and they'll return to Valley 10 play this Friday as they travel to Damascus Christian (10-4, 6-1) on Friday for a 6 p.m. match.

"I'm excited to see us return home and play over the next four to five week," McGrath said. "Even though our record and ranking [took] a hit with the losses, what we gain from those losses will be far more valuable down the stretch for us."

Conner Williams
Sports Reporter/News Contributor
503-829-2301 ext. 341
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