By Ryan Clarke

The Bulletin

SISTERS — Another year of sets, spikes and celebrations began Tuesday night for Crook County volleyball. The Cowgirls defeated Sisters in a contentious four sets; 25-21, 25-27, 25-17, 25-23.

Winning is familiar for Crook County. What isn’t is doing so without legendary head coach Rosie Honl, who retired last season after 22 years. Honl amassed 14 conference championships and eight state titles during her tenure, developing the program into a perennial contender.

Now, Baylee Dunkel takes over a team that returns all but one of its players from last season, when the Cowgirls finished fourth in state competition. The stakes are raised for Dunkel’s squad, though, as the Cowgirls move up from class 4A to 5A, facing off against some brand new opponents under the guidance of a brand new coach.

Dunkel said the transition has been made easier by team captains Mekynzie Wells and Kerigan Waibel, both seniors, whom she called “strong forces” in the Crook County locker room.

“No transition year is an easy year,” Dunkel explained. “In this case, this is the best possible team to transition with because we have so many returners. All of them are super knowledgeable and are helping our younger girls out tremendously.”

Wells and Waibel lead a vocal group that radiates chemistry. Their communication stood out in Tuesday’s victory, as did the matching white Crocs that each player had sitting by their backpack — a lighthearted tradition Dunkel said she picked up from coaches at Philomath High School.

The tradition will continue for the rest of the 2018 season, Dunkel said, and her goal is to continue the winning tradition established by Honl. The former and current Crook County coaches talk often, and Honl remains a fixture in the program and community while providing Dunkel with advice.

“I’m just constantly talking to her and getting little tidbits from her,” Dunkel said with a smile. “We’ve definitely carried Rosie over into our team, and she’s always around.”

Dunkel moved to Central Oregon in October of 2017 after coaching club volleyball in the Portland-Vancouver area. She grew up in Vancouver and played four years of varsity volleyball at Fort Vancouver High School before one year of volleyball at nearby Clark College. Still in her mid-20s, Dunkel said she did not think she would be coaching a high school team this early in her career.

But here she is, taking over for the most successful coach in Crook County program history.

“All of it is entangled in my own volleyball experience,” Dunkel said, explaining her philosophy. “I coach how I was coached, and now I’m infusing a lot of how Rosie coached. My competitiveness comes out a lot with our girls.”

Volleyball is a loud sport. The ball hits the floor with a reverberating thud, players on one side scream in elation, and coaches yell out instructions and celebrate with those on the bench. That stays the same regardless of who is doing the coaching.

According to Dunkel, the Cowgirls’ habits don’t change, either.

“We like basics at Crook County,” Dunkel said. “We’re never the tallest team, we’re never the hardest-hitting team, and so we really like to focus on the technical aspect of volleyball. We do everything at practice pretty much the same as before, and I put my little twist on it.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0307,