The Cottage Grove volleyball team remembers how last season started. A season ago, the Lions began the year 2-5 before eventually righting the ship and making it to the state quarterfinals. This year, they are picking up where they ended last season and are, as of Monday morning, ranked number one 4A with a red-hot 6-1 record to start the year off.
“It feels really, really good because this time last year we were not,” said senior Cassidy Herbert before trailing off. “It makes me feel really good and I’m super excited for the season.”
Last Thursday, the team had their home opener as they hosted Banks and Klamath Union. The visiting sides played each other first before each facing Cottage Grove. The Lions handled their business and took down the Braves (25-12, 25-20, 20-25, 25-14) and swept the Pelicans (25-16, 25-22, 25-14).
Against Banks, ranked 12th at the time of the match, the Lions came out dominant early. The Lions closed out the opening set on a 12-3 run powered by Herbert’s serve which was creating problems for the visiting side.
Reilly Kelty led the team with 19 kills while Herbert added 11. Lauren Witty dished out 31 assists.
In the third set, it was the Braves coming up big late in the set to force Cottage Grove’s first lost set of the season.
“Banks was like a good competition for us. We dropped a set to them, which I mean we shouldn’t have… but I feel like we can clean up some stuff. I think we did good overall,” said Herbert.
Matty Ladd added four kills and four blocks against the Braves.
Against the Pelicans, ranked sixth at the time of the game, Cottage Grove put their talent on display as Kelty had 20 kills along with 10 digs. Herbert added nine kills and four aces as Izzy Hirst had three aces and three kills.
“We’re deep and we have lots of different weapons. So it depends on what weapon we need to use and it’s nice because if one weapon needs a little time off, we can go on to the next one,” said head coach Kendra Anderson.
It wasn’t just the one-two punch of Kelty and Herbert as Izzy Hirst had three aces and three kills; Matty Ladd had a pair of kills and three blocks; and Sam May had two aces and nine digs. Witty had 31 assists and eight digs.
Herbert noted that her setter, Witty, is a staple of the team and is currently playing through a host of injuries.
“She messed up her elbow, her thumb is purple, she has an ankle problem, her knee is purple. If you saw her hip, it’s like this big purple, green, yellow bruise. She is one of the toughest girls I’ve ever played with,” said Herbert. Adding that there was the time last year when Witty broker her finger in warmups at a tournament and didn’t see a doctor until after the games were finished.
“She is just one of the strongest players ever,” said Herbert.
A key for Cottage Grove was their ability to stay energized in back-to-back games.
“Some of it is just being in shape. It’s a lot easier to be up and excited when you’re in shape. And I think that their time in the summer, either on the court or in the weight room, and doing that stuff really helps them,” said Anderson. “We had a quick snack in between and a little dance party doesn’t hurt.”
Over the weekend, the Lions played at the Cascade Tournament where they defeated Sweet Home (25-16, 25-24), Seaside (25-12, 25-18) and North Marion (25-10, 25-11) in pool play. In bracket play Cottage Grove beat Junction City (25-17, 25-13) before falling to tournament winners, and top-2A team, Kennedy.
The Lions begin the regular season Thursday on the road at Siuslaw before returning home next Tuesday to host Marshfield, who they knocked out of last year’s playoffs.