Lady Lions back on the court this week

From the Lions 2019 season, Matty Ladd (14), Blakely Herbert (9) and Gracie Arnold (far right) proved too much for the visiting Marist squad. All three are returning this season under new head coach Abby Ladd. (file photo/The Sentinel 2019)

Matches for Season Two sports have finally begun this week, and Cottage Grove High School was one of the schools among those fortunate enough to be moved down from the “extreme-risk” category to the “high-risk” category last week. As a result, the Lions’ volleyball program will be allowed to compete, provided the county remains in the high-risk category (or lower) for the remaining weeks of the shortened six-week season.

Coach Abby Ladd, who has taken on the head coaching position this school year, anticipates a very strong season for the Lionesses.

“We’ve had girls showing up for workouts since November, and really showing that they’re dedicated to the sport even when there was no promise or guarantee of actually having a season,” said Ladd. “We continued doing workouts all the way up until last Thursday (Feb. 18), so right before our season started, and we had a really great turnout. We’ve had 30 girls sign up for volleyball this year, which I think is six more than last year — so that’s a huge turnout.”

The high turnout wasn’t expected this year. However, Ladd has been grateful for the growth of the program. At this point, there are enough girls playing for the school to have three teams: varsity, JV and JV2.

“We weren’t anticipating having a JV2 team, and as we continued to get a huge influx of signups, Matt [Myers], the athletic director, and I collaborated and worked really hard on throwing together a JV2 season,” said Ladd. “And we kept saying, ‘this is a good problem to have!’ It’s a great thing that we had that many girls come out. [For] my first year head coaching, it was exciting to have that many girls come out.”

Although it is only her first year as head coach, Ladd spent the past four years as the program’s assistant coach before taking the helm this year. She has also coached club volleyball in Corvallis.

“I was going to school at Oregon State University, and I just graduated in the spring (2020),” said Ladd. “[Before this school year], I was commuting down in the fall to coach at Cottage Grove, and then I would essentially spend the rest of my year coaching club up in Corvallis.”

Despite Ladd’s years of experience, the pandemic has created issues that no amount of previous coaching knowledge could have prepared her for.

“It’s been hard for sure,” said Ladd. “We’ve had to get really creative. For a long time, we were doing ball control drills out on the turf at five o’clock at night, before we could get inside the gym, and then once we got inside the gym, we could still only have six girls participating.

“It [took] a lot of patience from the athletes, kind of waiting for their turn to be one of the six, but they all showed a lot of support and enthusiasm, and they all showed up anyway.”

With Lane County metrics finally moving Friday Feb. 26, it was the team’s first day being able to have a true practice with everyone participating. Ladd said it’s been a long journey to get there, but they players persevered, pushed through and showed dedication through some of the hardest things she has ever seen for athletes.

The dedication of the players serves as an added benefit to the fact that the varsity team is comprised entirely of returning players. In fact, it’s the exact same team that the Lions put on the floor last year — and the team didn’t graduate anyone. To top it off, the team still only includes three seniors.

“They put in a lot of work last year and have put in a lot of work in the offseason,” said Ladd. “[They] showed up with 

really high goals, setting a high standard for themselves, and [they are] really showing that in the practices we’ve had. They continue to make goals to treat everything like a game, and you can really see they’re taking that to heart in the practices. They play with high intensity and they’re ready for some competition.”

With regard to the team’s assets on the court, Ladd said the Lions’ line-up is strong all around — including three players who are over six feet tall. In addition to height, Ladd said she has players who are skilled all-around.

“Everyone on the team has really good ball control, which means that they can do anything,” Ladd said. “I’ve told the girls, just because they’ve played a position in a game on Tuesday, it doesn’t mean they’re going to be in that same position Thursday.”

Ladd said she feels the team is in a great spot, with even the middles playing defense and serve-receive well, and anyone can play anywhere. “So, it’s going to be really great that we can strategize and move the girls around depending on who we’re playing and who’s having a good day or a bad day. It’s going to be a really exciting season, and I think that they’re all looking forward to getting to play everything.”

Ladd said she is especially looking forward to the performance of her front row on offense this season, particularly junior Gracie Arnold, who can dominate the net at over six feet tall. In addition to Arnold, senior Matty Ladd — who happens to be Coach Ladd’s younger sister — is another solid hitter also standing over six feet tall.

“I’ve been coaching at the high school since she was a freshman — assistant coaching varsity, and coaching JV — so, when the spot opened, I definitely grabbed ahold because I knew it was going to be her senior year and I wanted to be able to continue that with her.”

In fact, Matty just signed with Carroll College in Montana to play volleyball.

In addition to strong hitters, junior Peyton Kidd returns as the Lions’ setter. “[Peyton] is going to run a five-one [offense],” said Ladd. “She was amazing last year and is even better this year.”

Overall, Coach Ladd is just grateful the girls will get to play at all this year. As she mentioned, “It’s something we’ve been working for and looking forward to. Now that it’s actually happening, it’s really exciting,” Ladd said.

However, the season remains in flux as it moves forward, with county metrics deciding every two weeks whether or not a school will remain eligible to play in accordance with the county’s most recent risk assessment. The Lady Lions have already had to face some cancellations in this first week of competitions.

“Our game on Tuesday (March 2) was canceled because it was supposed to be a doubleheader against Marshfield and North Bend, but Coos County is now in the extreme-risk category,” said Ladd. “I know they’re going to try and reschedule it for later in the season; I don’t know for sure what that’s going to look like.”

Ladd has taken the news in stride, accentuating the positives for her squad. “We in our program have refocused that information as a positive and found that getting a few more days of practice before competition is only going to help us, it’s not going to hurt us,” said Ladd, who admitted it’s unfortunate to potentially lose a play date in an already very short season. “But we’ve kind of reframed it a little bit and are looking forward to continuing the work that we’ve been putting in for a couple more days. And I’m hoping that pays off when we play Thursday (March 4).

The Lions play their first match tonight, on the road at Elmira High School beginning at 6:45 p.m.

As with all sporting events at this time, no spectators will be allowed to attend. The Sentinel will be on hand.

Look in next week’s edition of for photos and full results.

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