EAGLE POINT — Christine McCready isn't afraid to say what many in the Rogue Valley have been thinking as the volleyball season has progressed.
With McCready leading the charge, Eagle Point has churned out wins over every Class 6A and 5A squad in the vicinity and now stands one victory away from posting its first season with double-digit wins since 2003.
Ashland, Crater, Grants Pass, North Medford, South Medford ... they've all fallen prey to the Eagles (9-4) thus far and the season's barely over the midway mark. Such success at the local level hasn't been seen at Eagle Point since before most of the current players were born — or at least were out of diapers.
"I think it's actually surprised us how we're doing so good because we haven't had this much success in past seasons," McCready says in all honesty. "I think we're just enjoying the moment and trying to keep beating those hard teams we play."
As one of two members in the Class 5A Southern Oregon Hybrid with Ashland, the only victories that truly matter are the ones against the Grizzlies, so it's fitting that the two meet tonight with a 10th win hanging in the balance for the Eagles, as well as a chance to claim the conference's No. 1 seed.
Eagle Point won a five-game match in the first go-round and will play host to Ashland at 7 p.m. in the second of a best-of-three competition this season. The Eagles also scored a 2-1 triumph over the Grizzlies during the Rogue Valley Classic, and will also play in an Ashland tournament again this weekend before capping the regular season with a conference matchup on Oct. 27.
"This is one of the best all-around teams I've seen at Eagle Point since I played and we went to the state tournament in 2003," says first-year EP head coach Elizabeth Bilden, who was a sophomore on that 2003 team. "This is just a hard-working team that's shown the determination to win and also shown intelligence on the court."
And, ultimately, it's a team that has simply come together to play for one another.
"At the end of the day, this team has fun on the court, knows this is a game and has fun playing it," adds Bilden, who graduated from EP in 2006 and was an assistant at her alma mater for three seasons before taking over at Crater last year. "They pick each other up and have an easy-going attitude. One of the big themes I'm going through with them is to play like it's your last time and they've really taken that to heart."
No one exemplifies that more than McCready, who is a leaping and spiking testament to what determination can do for an athlete. The 5-foot-10 three-sport star suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament during her basketball season in late March of 2010, played with it during her softball season before ultimately deciding to have surgery that May. She was forced to sit out her junior volleyball and basketball seasons before returning to her role as catcher last season in softball.
"It was horrible," McCready says of being sidelined. "I wouldn't wish that upon anybody. Sitting on the sidelines watching your team play is the worst thing possible. Having to go through that just made me more determined to get back and start playing again."
And by all accounts, McCready is not only back, she's better than ever. Bilden says she can't recall a match where the senior middle blocker hasn't registered a triple-double, with averages of 11 kills, 12 blocks and 35 digs per match.
"She's just mentally, physically and skill-wise always ready to show up and play," says Bilden. "Everybody feeds off her energy."
As one of the tallest players on the Eagle roster, McCready has shown uncanny versatility as an all-around player who doesn't come off the court.
"I can put her in any position and she's going to push through and make it happen," says Bilden. "She reads the ball very well and can see what's going to happen before it happens. And for being a vertically blessed athlete, she is able to move like she's 5-1 and that's what's the most impressive thing. It's very impressive to see a tall person pass the ball as well as she does."
While McCready may help set the tone, she and Bilden are also quick to point out the valuable contributions of an Eagle Point squad led by eight seniors. Whether it's the communication and skill of setter Carolina Regalado, floor leadership of converted libero Lesley Nielson or steady contributions of middle blocker Jenna Richardson, the Eagles have received key efforts all over the court.
"Our group of eight seniors, we've wanted this for a long time and finally this year it's paid off for us with our hard work," says McCready. "We've all been playing together for a while and we have a lot of chemistry on the floor and that's just helped us a lot."
McCready is also quick to praise Bilden, who has been involved with the North Jackson Volleyball Club since 2006 and is no stranger to this group.
"This year's been pretty much a turnaround for us," says McCready. "We enjoy playing a little more and are having more fun together."
This group of seniors certainly is near and dear to the coach's heart, mostly because that group comprised the first team she ever coached when they were seventh graders. Returning to her alma mater has been a blessing, but not nearly as much as the attitudes that greeted her in June.
"Having 12 girls that all have the same vision is something you can't ask for as a coach and I've got it, and I love it," says Bilden.
Coming off a hard-fought five-game loss at Class 6A Roseburg on Tuesday, that attitude has only strengthened in time.
"We're just trying to play our games to the fullest because this is all some of us may get," says McCready. "We just need to push forward and keep working hard as a team, that way we'll be pretty successful as a team."
Some might say that goal has already been met.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry