CRESWELL – In a battle of top-10 volleyball teams, and Mountain Valley Conference rivals, the Creswell Bulldogs outmatched the Pleasant Hill Billies at home last Thursday and won a competitive match 3-1.
The hard-fought match-up proved many things, one of which is that both of these teams should be contenders come playoff time.
“I was really happy with how well they performed,” said Anna Baltrusch, Creswell head coach. “They’re still not playing as good as they’re capable of playing, but I’m starting to see that they believe how good they are.”
Things were looking good for the Billies early as they jumped out to an early lead and took the first set 25-19, in part because of the offensive prowess of 6-foot-1′ sophomore captain Cheyenne Green.
“She definitely can get us kills, and that’s important in a game
of volleyball,” said Jessica Crawford, Pleasant Hill head coach. “She’s put in a lot of work. And she’s still learning too.”
The Bulldogs would then come out firing in the second set and hold the lead throughout, tying the sets at 1-1 with a 25-18 win. The third set, however, was the all-important one. The Bulldogs kept slightly ahead of the Billies, and went on a 4-1 run to go up 18-13 and force a Billies timeout.
“It was the first time we were really challenged, and we came up against a team where we might have won, or we might have not won,” Baltrusch said. “And they stepped up.”
The Billies rallied after the timeout and pulled within two points at 23-21, forcing a Creswell timeout.
“We had some really good energy, and we were ready to battle,” Crawford said. “That is something that we’ve been working on and doing quite well with in prior matches.”
The Bulldogs won the third set 25-23 on a spike by junior Lizabelle Osborn, one of 10 kills she had Thursday. That would be the straw that broke the Billies’ back, as Creswell won the fourth set 25-10, led by senior Kendyl Whitson.
“I would have given Kendyl the game-winning ball,” Baltrusch said. “She was a game-changer with the way she played.”
“It was a good, tough match and highlighted some areas that we need to work on,” Crawford said. “But Creswell had a good atmosphere and put up a good offense for us to learn from.”
Despite the competitive match, this rivalry might be more friendly than most, as many of the girls on both sides play together during club season. Some are even family, as Whitson and Green, both stars for their respective teams, are also cousins.
Moving forward, both teams have their eyes on bigger goals. The Billies, who missed the playoffs last season, come into this season with young talent. Spearheading that youth movement are three sophomores who did something Crawford hasn’t seen in her days of coaching – they all three became co-captains as voted on by teammates.
“Those three sophomores have put in a lot of time in the gym, and making connections … with other players and people in the program,” she said. “I think that their peers see that they also have good leadership qualities that they’re still developing.”
Green is one of those captains, as are Emily Krauss and Claire Crawford. You might recognize that final last name, and apparently the family leadership skills did pass from mother to daughter.
“As a mom, I’m quite proud of her,” coach Crawford said. “Being in that captain role, and just learning how to find her own way to lead and to contribute. It’s really fun to watch your child grow, up close.”
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, made it to the state semifinals last year, and Baltrusch believes this team is unlike any other she’s had.
“They communicate, and they talk and they help each other out. And they’re a very smart group of kids,” she said. “I’m coaching this team differently than I’ve ever coached a team before.”
A big statement for a coach who is in her 26th year at Creswell and has more than 500 wins for the program. Now both coaches must focus on the rest of the season, and that means maximizing the teams’ potential and achieving their goals.
“We want to make it to state,” Crawford said. “That’s what we’re going for, and we think that’s attainable.”
“My challenge is for them to stay focused, take care of little things, not take any plays off,” Baltrusch said. “I’ve told them if they do that they can be state champions.”
Different goals, but the same destination – the state tournament.