COTTAGE GROVE – “The Three Amigos of Pleasant Hill” was a smash hit back in the day.
Perhaps this is premature to say, but “The Three Amigos of Pleasant Hill, The Sequel” already seems to be in the embryonic stages.
This is Jessica Crawford’s fifth year as head volleyball coach, but it has been 27 years since the Billies have won a league title. It has also been 27 years since Crawford graduated after winning three straight league championships, from 1993-95.
“We decided to get the band back together,” Crawford said, noting that assistant coach Jami Strinz would be joined on the bench by middle school coach Michelle (Johnson) Olsen. “The last time we were league champs was when the three of us played together. We’re super excited to have Michelle here. She’s a really good coach, a really good person and she’ll be great for the community.”
Pleasant Hill got a glimpse of how well the trio get along as coaches during Friday’s jamboree with Elmira and Cottage Grove. The Billies struggled against Elmira before rallying for a 25-21 victory, then put it all together for a 25-9 romp over the host Lions.
“Jami rolls in there and tells the girls the story of how they have a high bar set and how we want you to get after it,” Crawford said. “It was meant to be a little nod to us historically.”
The girls responded to the challenge. Oddly enough, the team leaders – as voted on by all the players – are sophomore co-captains Emily Krauss, Cheyenne Green and Claire Crawford. The Billies overpowered both jamboree opponents Friday behind the power hitting of Krauss and Green and the finesse setting of Crawford.
“We worked hard, we were a small town but we liked to play. One year we took third at state,” Crawford said. “Honestly, I’m hoping these three sophomores will catch on and maybe have the same type of experience that we enjoyed. The other kids are terrific, too. I can’t tell you how great the energy is here. They are a pleasure to be around. They’ve all set goals for themselves and they’re trying to hold themselves to a high bar.
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This certainly is a far cry from last year’s Cottage Grove team. The Lions finished 13-7, reaching the quarterfinals of the state playoffs. Abby Ladd was named 2021 Sky-Em Coach of the Year. Two-sport star Gracie Arnold earned a basketball scholar- ship to Western Oregon. Peyton Kidd (Southwestern Oregon) and Isabel Centers (Lane Community College) are furthering their volleyball careers as the Lions rebuild (reload?) after losing seven seniors.
Ladd has become a cornerstone of the Cottage Grove program, first playing four years on varsity, then commuting for four years while attending Oregon State and working as an assistant, and now beginning her third season as head coach.
“I was very busy,” said Ladd, who earned her undergraduate degree in pre-athletic training, then received her B.S. in Kinesiology in 2020. “My whole life, I had always wanted to be a high school athletic trainer. Then the high school head coaching job became available and I kind of shifted away from training and went to teach- ing – so I’m a health and PE teacher here at the high school.”
Friday’s two matches for Cottage Grove were, in Ladd’s view, the best of times and the worst of times. The Lions steamrolled Elmira 25-4 in their first game before getting buried by the Billies.
“For us, our biggest challenge is mental toughness and staying strong and consistent. We knew what to expect from Elmira – they used to be in our league,” Ladd said. “Even in our postgame chat, we went into the Pleasant Hill game nervous, we were focused more on the errors we were making instead of being supportive and pushing themselves forward for their teammates as we try to build a new culture and a winning mind-set.
“But so many of the girls are so worried about the mistakes they’re making, it slowly has a domino effect and they create more and more, and the energy on the court goes down, and then everybody goes down.”
What a roller-coaster of a day for the Lions. Ladd wants to see how her girls respond.
“It was a great comparison to be able to have,” Ladd said. “How did you feel standing on the court in the first set? How did you feel when you were on the court in the second set? How can we get ourselves from where we felt in the second one back to how we felt in the first? What conversations do we actually need to have to get ourselves back to that positive strong place?”
The Lions also have three co-captains – all seniors – Blakely Herbert, Adrianna Glenn and Trinity Holder.
“All three have shown valuable leadership qualities,” Ladd said.
Don’t worry about Cottage Grove. They might be down, but it would be a mistake to count them out.
“We look at failures as temporary setbacks, and opportunities to succeed in the future,” Ladd said. “We saw a little bit of failure in that second set, we know why it happened and it gives us an opportunity to improve moving forward.
“We’re not the tallest team, but we were still getting blocks and still getting digs, we can still compete with teams taller than us. That’s part of a winning mind-set. A loser mind-set makes excuses, and winners find a way, and that’s what we’ve focused our efforts on.”