Katelyn Oester of the Lady Tigers sends the ball over the net as teammate Hailee Pearson prepares for Nyssa's return. (Liliana Frankel/The Enterprise)

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Coach Jessica Rodriguez's subject area. She is a math teacher, not an English language development teacher.

ONTARIO – Ontario’s Lady Tigers didn’t win against Nyssa’s Lady Bulldogs Friday. 

Still, said Coach Jessica Rodriguez, a math teacher at the high school, she thought it had been the volleyball team’s best match. 

“Sometimes you can lose and still have a good feeling,” she said. 

That pride in sportsmanship is what animates the program at Ontario, which is currently 0-6. 

After a quiet off-season, during which Ontario School District’s strict interpretation of the Covid guidelines made it impossible for the team to formally gather for practice, the girls finally reunited inside the gym for tryouts.

But while Malheur County was still in the extreme risk category for Covid, the team had to hold tryouts in groups of six, complicating any vision of the team as a whole.

It wasn’t until Friday, Feb. 26, when Malheur County went down to the moderate risk category, that Rodriguez could see her team play as a unit. At that point, however, there were only three practices till their first game. 

Before Covid, the Lady Tigers had what Rodriguez called “a building year.” It was her first year taking over the program, and although the team didn’t make it to post-season play, the games they lost went mostly into four or five sets.

“It’s a good year to build off of because I feel like we can only get better, and the girls are more used to playing with each other,” Rodriguez said. 

Senior starter Corrine Maag spent the off-season working with her teammates to maintain some of that momentum. 

“I would get the girls together during summertime and we would go to Payette where there’s sand courts, Caldwell where there’s grass courts, or Alameda where there’s grass,” said Maag. “We would have our own open gym together.” 

Much of the time, the girls would be in Idaho, where Covid restrictions were more lax. Nonetheless, she said, the group’s movements were limited by fears of the virus. 

“I didn’t go out as much because we didn’t want to get our teammates sick,” Maag said. 

Not all of the girls could participate in Maag’s informal training sessions. Senior starter Lexy Jordan began working full-time during the pandemic as a dental assistant in Fruitland last August and since then, has had less time to play. 

Still, she said, “My boss is super lenient and knows that’s what comes first till I graduate.” 

Jordan’s days since the resumption of volleyball practice have been quite busy. She goes to work in the morning, completes her hours of remote schooling while at work, and then heads to the gym for practice. After practice, it’s back to work for another few hours before the day’s end. 

“I’m lucky and all of us are lucky to have a season even if it’s only six weeks,” she said. “To be in the gym even if we have to wear a mask.”

Sophomore Kamryn Hammond agreed. It’s her first year on varsity but she already feels close with her teammates.

“Being in varsity, it’s like it’s more of a family,” Hammond said. “We’re all more mature as we grow together, so we work better together.” 

This closeness has developed despite the ways that the girls’ interactions have been limited because of Covid.

And it was on display Friday night as they took on the Nyssa Lady Bulldogs. 

When Nyssa won the first two sets, the Lady Tigers were there to spur one another on. Ontario was able to successfully rally and win the second two sets. After every point won or lost, the team would come together for a quick group hug, Maag and Hammond high-fiving teammates along the way and Jordan cheering the group towards a possible victory. 

In the last set, however, Nyssa quickly took the lead and ceded little ground to the Tigers, winning 15-8.

Maag had 28 digs, the most of anyone on the team and Jordan had 16 kills. Hailee Pearson, another team member, led with 25 assists. 

“It was a tough game. I think we fought really hard,” said Maag. 

The game was a much closer match than Ontario’s first face-off with Nyssa on March 3, which Nyssa won in only three sets. 

“For going five sets with them, it was a pretty good game,” said Maag. 

The Ontario Lady Tigers will have their next chance to improve their record March 27 at Baker. Meanwhile, Nyssa’s Lady Bulldogs will square up with Vale on March 29.

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.

Lexy Jordan of the Lady Tigers faces off with Nyssa at the net. (Liliana Frankel/The Enterprise)

Kamryn Hammond of the Lady Tigers gets down low for a dig. (Liliana Frankel/The Enterprise)

Lexy Jordan and Alexis Wilson exchange a low-five between points. (Liliana Frankel/The Enterprise)

The Lady Tigers celebrate after winning a point. (Liliana Frankel/The Enterprise)

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