It has reached the point that Randi Viggiano is unfazed by the unprecedented high school volleyball success in Central Oregon.

Over the past decade, the area has boasted many of the top teams in the state. The High Desert has produced stellar athletes who have taken their talents to the NCAA Division I level. Central Oregon is home to a decorated club program, Rimrock Volleyball Club, with which many of the area’s players compete year-round. The coaching has been top-notch, from eight-time state champion Rosie Honl at Crook County to two-time state title-winning coaches Kristin Cooper (Bend High) and Jill Waskom (Summit), not to mention Viggiano herself, who coached Class 2A Culver to the 2012 state title and to two state finals appearances over the past three seasons, including this past Saturday in Redmond.

Dynasties have emerged in Central Oregon: Crook County won an OSAA-record eight straight titles between 2006 and 2013; Sisters has made seven appearances in the 4A championship since 2007, winning five, including this past Saturday in Forest Grove; and Summit has appeared in five 5A championship matches, including Saturday in Hillsboro, winning two.

Yet even Saturday’s showing at the various state tournaments statewide was head-turning. Four Central Oregon teams playing for state titles (including Intermountain Conference foes Bend and Summit, who beginning next year will measure themselves in 6A) — the most state finals qualifiers ever produced by the area. Two state champions (Bend and Sisters) — tied for the most by local programs. For good measure, 12 players from Central Oregon teams were voted to all-tournament teams — including three (Summit’s Haley Smith, Sisters’ Hawley Harrer, Culver’s Margie Beeler) who were unanimous selections.

Still, Viggiano, whose Bulldogs fell in four games to Grant Union in the 2A final, chuckles while noting how unsurprised she is to see such success by Central Oregon programs.

“To me,” Viggiano laughs, “I almost expect Central Oregon teams to represent in the state championship every year.”

Since 2006, not only has there been at least one area team appearing in a state final, but at least one Central Oregon squad has claimed a championship each season. Prior to OSAA expansion from four to six classifications in 2006, Central Oregon had produced only two state finalists and two champions. Over the past 11 years, however, the region has boasted 28 finalists and 18 state champions.

“It’s great representation of Central Oregon,” says Waskom, the Summit coach. “There’s a lot of pride.”

Says Cooper, the Bend coach: “It makes people kind of turn their heads and talk about us. It’s nice to have that.”

In the 5A final at Liberty High School, two IMC rivals squared off for the state title — nothing new, as Central Oregon IMC foes had met in a state championship final five times since 2006. This time, Bend rallied from two sets down to win its second straight, and second-ever, state championship. Just a few miles away, at Forest Grove High, Sisters captured its second straight 4A title and its third in four years. Summit (in 5A) and Culver (2A) each advanced to the championship match for the second time in three seasons, further demonstrating Central Oregon’s volleyball prowess.

“This last game, I was just thinking, ‘Win or lose, this is going to look good for Central Oregon,’” says Bend senior Kaci Cox, a first-team all-tournament selection who had 20 kills in the Lava Bears’ championship win. Like many players in Central Oregon, Cox competes in club volleyball during the offseason, playing alongside athletes from Summit, Sisters and Culver, among other schools.

“I have teammates from my club team on Sisters. Everywhere we go, we see each other at hotels and we hug and we laugh and joke around with each other. Even though we’re on different teams, it doesn’t matter. We all just love this game and we show it on the court.”

Adds Cooper: “It’s really good for Central Oregon to see two IMC teams in the championship. It just means that we are a strength in Oregon. I know it wasn’t always that way a little while ago. Volleyball is really becoming one of the top sports out of Central Oregon. I’m excited to see that happening.”

The stars were out Saturday: Summit’s Smith racked up 27 kills (third-most in any classification’s championship Saturday), the Storm’s Lili Garcia dished out 45 assists (second-most and more than eight teams totaled), Sisters’ Harrer recorded a rare triple-double (19 kills, 17 assists, 10 digs), while Culver’s Bridget Lopez and Irma Retano posted the most and third-most digs (24 and 22, respectively) among Saturday’s title matches.

Jaw-dropping performances abounded this past Saturday at the volleyball state championships, many of them by Central Oregon teams and players. Which was no surprise to Randi Viggiano.

“We’ve just done a really good job in Central Oregon,” says Viggiano, the Culver coach, “of creating a fun atmosphere for young kids to really fall in love with the sport on their own and make that choice to really develop their skills and kind of develop a volleyball mecca over here.

“I definitely think there is that pride piece of wanting to represent community as a whole, like the tri-county area. Even at Culver, I have kids who play on club teams with girls at Bend and at Mountain View and Ridgeview and Summit. There’s kind of a camaraderie of, ‘Hey, let’s get there together and celebrate each other’s successes’ as well as their own.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0307, glucas@bendbulletin.com

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