Lions volleyball splits first two games of season

COTTAGE GROVE, Ore. - With just one senior athlete and coming off from a year when the Cottage Grove Lions volleyball team went 4-18, the team opened the 2023 season with a big test against the Creswell Bulldogs. The Bulldogs figure to be one of the top teams in the 3A, have seven seniors, and a dynamic first-year student in Piper Hanson.

With Hanson first up to serve, Creswell built a quick 9-0 lead against the Lions, who looked to have some first game jitters in set one. The Lions would make a push, but the Bulldogs ultimately took set one 25-13.

“I thought it started out a little rough but then came back super strong.” Lions coach Abby Ladd said.

After trading a few service errors to start set two, the Lions built a 4-1 lead, but the Bulldogs rallied back from the early deficit to take a 6-5 advantage after a Hanson kill. Still, the Lions were not ready to back down.

The teams exchanged blows and were all knotted at 8-8, but the Bulldogs took control from there. They built a 14-8 lead over the Lions before Cottage Grove could get back on the board, which came in the form of a service error by Creswell. Despite strong early efforts from the Lions, the Bulldogs were in complete control of the night, winning set two 25-12. But the Lions were not ready to roll over and be finished.

“We did a good job of showing who we are. Even though they got ahead of us in the start we showed we are not a team to overlook and that we have ball control, and we can put pressure on them,” Ladd said.

Now down two sets to zero, Cottage Grove played their strongest with their back against the wall. Creswell built a 14-10 lead, but the Lions showed their grit and toughness to not go quietly, something that coach Ladd noted that she saw reflected in the team’s summer workouts.

“I saw a lot of dedication, we had girls here four days a week, working out, going through skills practice, and showing up because they are committed to the team,” Ladd said. “They are committed to being a team and improving together. That’s a huge jump for us in the program.”

After a few sloppy plays by the Bulldogs, the Lions cut the lead to 14-13, then Cottage Grove junior Shaelynne Timm tied the game following a kill. The Bulldogs retook the lead, but it was short lived, as the Lions were able to get the upper hand when junior Cassie Hankins scored at the net, then Timm was able to get the Lions on the board again on a serve, building Cottage Grove's third set lead to 18-16.

While it was a night where the Lions' grit showed, Creswell prevailed in set three 25-21, winning the game 3-0. With a day in between, Cottage Grove could focus on the positives, but also learn as they had a quick turnaround with South Umpqua coming to town two days later, on Thursday.

“We know we need to work on some defensive stuff [going into Thursday's game against South Umpqua].” Stay low on defense and not get caught standing up. There are a couple minor fundamental things that we need to clean up, but we are pushing forward and looking to keep that competitive edge that we saw come out tonight and building on what we saw,” Ladd said.

Keep the competitive edge Cottage Grove did. The Lions rolled through South Umpqua, winning 3-0.

The first set was competitive with the two teams trading blows early. Both teams were sloppy early on, but with the set tied 10-10, the Lions took control after a kill by Lions sophomore Taylor Bennett. The Lions took set one 25-21.

“Taylor Bennett has made a huge jump, she put a lot of work in during the off-season in club and during summer, really working on defense and on being a smart hitter. I think it’s apparent she is a strong player for us and that she worked really hard for that growth,” coach Ladd said following the game.

Set two saw contributions from many Lions, but first-year Jocelynn Joseph made some key plays down the stretch at the net that helped the Lions win 25-19. Then set three saw the Lions build a 17-11 advantage before winning 25-18.

The Lions are 1-1 heading into a match-up with Molalla at home on Tuesday night (September 5) and Thursday night (September 7) on the road at Hidden Valley, both games coming following The Sentinel's time of print.

Stats were unavailable for the Lions game against Creswell, but the Lions found key contributions against South Umpqua from Bailee Fournier, who had 4 kills and 9 points off serves. Bennett and sophomore Mariah Bailey each had three kills.