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North Medford's Caitlin Barrie, left, and Crater's McKayla Meunier face off at the net in the third game on Tuesday. - Andy Atkinson

Black Tornado tops Comets

North Medford head volleyball coach Erika Wright often reminds her team to never underestimate anyone ... that includes a team looking for its first victory since 2009.

The Crater Comets, hungry for their first win since Oct. 27, 2009, put together a few serious runs but couldn't string together enough offense to prevail against a scrappy Black Tornado squad, which hurt itself with unforced errors but still managed to roll 25-11, 25-21, 25-12 on Tuesday.

"In watching my kids, I have a level of expectation as how they should play every single time no matter who they are playing, and we take every opponent seriously," Wright said. "It really is something I preach and the kids know it's important. Crater has some good tools and they are significantly better than they were last year."

The Comets — who have not secured a match victory since becoming a member of the Class 6A Southern Oregon Hybrid — proved tough in their conference contest at North Medford High.

North senior setter Emily Otoski rattled off the final 10 points in the third set, including several dazzling aces, to help her squad fend off Crater and improve to 4-1 overall and 3-0 in the SOH.

Senior outside hitter Mariah Williams finished with 10 kills and five digs and Otoski had 24 assists and six aces for the Black Tornado, which possesses six returning starters.

Sophomore outside hitter Katy Carter turned in six kills and nine digs and Caitlin Barrie, a senior middle blocker, offered up five kills.

The Comets, led by first-year head coach Jen Mendenhall, had their chance in the second game, capturing a 16-13 lead before North shook off its troubles and turned on an 8-1 run. During the Black Tornado's hot stretch, Barrie, Williams and sophomore middle blocker Elle Bixler all had key kills. A kill by Crater's McKayla Meunier drew the Comets within two, down 22-20, but North Medford took three of the next four points, including a carefully placed tip by junior right-side hitter Emily Carlson.

Things were all even at 11 in the final game before Barrie and Otoski went to work at the service line, helping the Black Tornado score 14 of the final 15 points.

"We were just trying to pull it together after a rough start," Otoski said. "And I felt like for my team I had to be aggressive and put as many as I could in the court in order for my team to put it away."

That team-first attitude runs strong within the North camp, Williams said. The Black Tornado is hoping to improve on last season's showing, when it went 4-15 overall and finished fourth in the five-team SOH.

Roseburg won the conference championship last fall and finished 22-5 overall.

"We are a team," said Williams, one of three seniors on the squad. "Our biggest goal since we walked in the gym together in June when we started summer ball (is) this is about us — individually what we are going to do for each other and how we are going to work and give something up for each other constantly."

For Crater (0-5, 0-3 SOH), junior outside hitter Katie Britton registered nine kills, freshman outside hitter Kelsey Strouse had eight kills, senior libero Courtney Villagrana recorded 28 digs and senior middle hitter Rachel Kingslien added three blocks and three aces.

"I feel good about that second game," said Mendenhall, whose team was 0-18 last year. "We competed. And we got our confidence up. We made plays, we were diving for stuff and we weren't playing scared. It's all a mentality. We had it and we lost it. We have to work on that throughout every single game we play."

Both Crater and North will compete in Saturday's Rogue Valley Classic. The large invitational, which features action at North Medford, South Medford and Central Medford High, is headlined by 6A's Roseburg, North and Sheldon, 5A's Summit, Eagle Point, Marshfield and Marist and 4A's Hidden Valley and Crook County.

"A, you want to win, but B you want to get better," Wright said of her team's goals at the popular tourney. "It gives us an opportunity to look at 30 of the best teams in the state and figure out where we fit in in that entire picture."

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune.com

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