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St. Paul cuts their teeth against six teams ranked in the top 10 in a span of two weeks

As the old saying goes: To be the best, you have to beat the best.

The St. Paul volleyball team has been putting that adage to the test to open the season, playing against a veritable gauntlet of the best teams in the state at the small school level.

And the Bucks are certainly holding their own.

St. Paul is 5-4 on the season after splitting a pair of games against Tri-River Conference opponents ranked in the top 10 last week.PHIL HAWKINS -- WOODBURN INDEPENDENT - St. Paul sophomore middle blocker Erin Counts punches a contested ball at the net during the Buckaroos' 3-0 win over rival Kennedy Sept. 12.

The Bucks opened the week with a 3-0 sweep (25-13, 25-14, 25-16) of No. 6 Kennedy on Sept. 12, followed with a 3-2 loss (21-25, 18-25, 25-23, 25-15, 15-11) at No. 3 Central Linn.

The team followed that with a trip to Dufur over the weekend, where the Bucks beat the hosting Rangers 3-0 (25-20, 25-13, 25-13) and fell to No. 1 Culver 3-1 (18-25, 25-3, 20-25, 21-25).

The week before there were games against No. 10 Regis, No. 3 North Douglas (1A) and No. 2 Grant Union, and this week St. Paul finishes its slate with a non-conference game against No. 7 Monroe.

"Yes, it is a crazy week and a half," coach Les Hiller said. "(It's) great competition, which we love."

Of course with the Bucks ranked a lofty No. 4 in the state at the 2A level, they've been giving out just as much as they've been taking from the best teams in the state.

The Kennedy Trojans learned that firsthand last week after the Bucks made short work of the first meeting between the Tri-River rivals.

The two teams have split the season series in each of the past two years, but St. Paul got the upper hand this time around thanks to strong play from captains Logan Robinson, Marley Martinez and Emma Connor.

"(They) kept their team focused and on task, and our team as a whole played really smart tonight," Hiller said. "We were solid at every position."

Robinson led the team with six kills and 12 digs, while Martinez added 13 assists and a pair of service aces.

Sophomore Isabelle Wyss came up with eight kills and eight digs, and middle blockers Haley Scott and Erin Counts worked hard at defending the net, coming up with four blocks each.

While the victory against Kennedy went relatively smoothly, that was not the case against the Central Linn Cobras two days later.

After breaking through last year with a fourth-place finish at the 2A state championships, the No. 3 Cobras are making their case as the team to beat in the Tri-River Conference this season.

Central Linn has one loss this season, against No. 2 Grant Union, and came back from being down 0-2 to St. Paul to win in a thrilling 3-2 game.

"Central Linn is a very strong team that will go far this year," Hiller said. "We always enjoy competing against them."

St. Paul came out strong against the hosting Cobras, and were on the cusp of victory after winning the first two sets 25-21 and 25-18.

But the Cobras shook off a slow start and took the final three sets, handing the Bucks their first league loss of the season.

"We started strong and they didn't turn it on until the third game," Hiller said. "A very good match, and we look forward to competing with them again."

Robinson again led the team with a strong game, putting up 14 kills and eight digs, while Martinez set her teammates up with 22 assists to go along with three kills.

Counts added eight kills and Wyss picked up five more in the loss.

St. Paul followed with a trip to Dufur, defeating the Rangers in three straight sets thanks to a strong service game that included eight aces and perfect serving from Alexis Goughnour, Presley Smith and Megan Tuck.

"The Dufur match was definitely a serving game," Hiller said. "We had consistent strong serves from all of our players with several aces."

The Bucks ended the week with a tough match versus top-ranked Culver. While St. Paul came out strong in the second set, handing the Bulldogs a resounding 25-3 loss, Culver was seasoned enough to withstand the barrage and take the final two sets.

"Our team played strong and fairly consistent, we just had some errors in our start that we couldn't catch up to in the end," Hiller said.

St. Paul travels to play at Monroe on Thursday.

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