State health officials’ decision to designate Lane County as “high risk” instead of “extreme” pandemic conditions was a much-needed morale boost for Creswell High’s girls volleyball program, its legendary coach said Tuesday afternoon. 

“The kids are excited to play, and excited to wear our brand-new uniforms,” said Anna Baltrusch, the longtime coach who passed 500 career victories last season. 

Brandon Standridge, Creswell School District’s athletic director, was equally exuberant about the state’s ruling.

“It means we are good to go for volleyball which is exciting for everyone,” he said. “The good news is that on Friday, our high school and middle school volleyball teams will be able to practice with their full teams in preparation for their matches next week.”

It’s been a long road to that season opener – against Pleasant Hill next Tuesday – for the volleyball team, Baltrusch said.

The team has been practicing since early January, after returning from winter break. The first month was outside, she said, once a week and finally reaching three times a week. The team practiced at Holt Park and Creslane Elementary. “It was freezing,” she said. 

The team has practiced indoors the past three weeks, six players at a time, for only 45 minutes. Baltrusch said she and assistant coach Hannah Thomas take each player’s temperature and fill out a four-page list of checkboxes for potential contact tracing. Every player, every practice.

“We’ve gotten the hang of it.”

The team has been busy working in the community, too. Baltrusch said players made fleece blankets for the McKenzie volleyball team this past Monday. Anna has a strong connection to the area ravaged by wildfires this past fall. Her family had a home that burned to the ground in Blue River; it was a home Baltrusch took her players to each year for preseason bonding. 

Chelsea Pisani of the Creswell Wellness Center helped facilitate more than $500 in donations to pay for the service project, Baltrusch said.

Standridge also made a point of acknowledging those players whose districts are in the “extreme” category.

“A few of the counties around us didn’t make it for this two-week cycle, meaning we have lost at least one match that we will try and make up later. I feel for their students who have to wait a couple of weeks potentially.”

Baltrusch said she tried to keep the mood light during those cold, outdoor practices. “I’d tell the team, someday we’ll say ‘Remember that time we had to play volleyball outside in the winter.’” 

Late last week OSAA officials announced that Season 2 sports – football, girls volleyball and boys and girls soccer, and cross country – will not be playing for state titles this year. The board met in a work session on Wednesday, Feb. 17 to receive updates from the OSAA staff on schools across the state will now have an “extra week” of Season 2 to fill as they see fit.

“We will talk amongst the league to see how best to fill that week but that could include a district or regional meet for cross country, and league playoffs for soccer and volleyball,” said Standridge. “For football, it might allow us another game, and since we are playing everyone in the league already, a chance to play someone else in our area like Pleasant Hill or Harrisburg.”

Standridge said the OSAA goal remains to play each season “as is.” He said moving any sport into another season at this time isn’t feasible.”