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Crater battles through 5 sets to secure ‘much-needed’ win

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CENTRAL POINT — The hard work of the Crater High volleyball team hasn’t delivered as many wins as the Comets hoped for one month into the season, which has understandably led to some frustrations.

So when the Comets found themselves in another Midwestern League battle Saturday against Thurston, coming away with a win felt crucial for a team trying to build its confidence.

Midway through the fourth set while trailing 2-1, Crater turned the match in its favor and delivered a 25-10 win, the most lopsided of the afternoon. Although sustaining momentum was difficult for both teams earlier in the day, the Comets’ play in the fourth carried over to the decisive fifth set, one they never trailed in, and they closed out a 21-25, 25-16, 21-25, 25-10, 15-10 win.

Juniors Madison Kocina and Kendra Bittle led Crater (3-5, 3-3 MWL) with 18 and 16 kills, respectively, while junior setter Kate Stidham, in addition to dishing out 33 assists, added 14 digs, six blocks and four aces.

Sophomore Joslyhn Pope had a team-high 22 digs and freshman Alexa Gugliotta had six blocks and a team-high five aces for the Comets.

“We definitely needed that win,” Crater head coach Megan Dunn said. “It’s been a rough season for us on and off the court, finding our rhythm and dealing with all sorts of COVID stuff and everything surrounding that. It was much-needed for our team, just in terms of boosting morale, showing all the hard work is starting to pay off and we’re hoping to just keep going with that.”

Thurston (6-5, 4-3) appeared to be in a good position after winning a third set it led by as many as eight points. Similar to the second set, however, Crater responded well after facing another deficit.

Crater held a 6-5 lead early, before rattling off a 9-2 run kickstarted by a pair of kills from Bittle, and later saw two aces from Gugliotta.

Later, already with a sizable 16-8 advantage, the Comets scored the next eight points unanswered during a run that included three kills from Kocina, a pair of Stidham aces and a block from freshman Danica Huntoon. Facing a 24-8 deficit, Thurston served into the net to end the set and knot the match at 2-all.

In the fifth set, Crater broke a 7-all tie with an ace from Gugliotta, followed by another well-hit serve that Thurston got a hand on but was unable to return.

Then after getting a block to take a 10-8 lead, Stidham served another ace, before Kocina tacked on a pair of kills and Bittle added a kill to help close out the win, the team’s first since Sept. 16.

“Our energy and supporting each other really helped us out a lot to win the last two games,” Stidham said. “We were really supporting each other well.”

Added Dunn: “I think a lot of it had to do with just our confidence. We started gaining that confidence playing together as a team and as soon as their confidence was boosted, they just kind of ran with it, were just playing volleyball and having fun with it.”

In the loss, Thurston’s Bayleigh Wodke led the Colts with 17 kills and four aces, while Ashlynn Medlock tallied 36 assists and one ace. As part of a doubleheader in the Rogue Valley, Thurston went on to defeat Eagle Point 3-0 Saturday evening following the loss to Crater.

Crater will next play a two-match series with Willamette (2-6, 1-6) beginning Monday night in Eugene and continuing Thursday in Central Point.

“I think we’re going to be a lot more confident going forward and we know we have that grit in us to keep pushing throughout the games — and that we can finish the games,” said Stidham, a returning first-team all-league player from the spring season.

“Our team is getting a lot more confidence as a whole. A lot of our players are progressing really, really far and finding their confidence in what their role is on the team.”

Reach reporter Will Denner at 541-776-4479 or wdenner@mailtribune.com.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneCrater's Kate Stidham, right, meets Thurston's Gracee Robertson at the net to earn a point for the Comets.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneCrater's Madison Kocina hits over the net for a point against Thurston.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneCrater's Abigail Winslow makes a hit for a point against Thurston.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneCrater's Madison Kocina, right, and Alexa Gugliotta make a block for a point against Thurston.