CENTRAL POINT &

Last year there was the new conference. This year, there's the new coach. But one thing remains constant when it comes to Ashland High volleyball &

especially in September: The result.

Ashland fought off four game points in Game — and survived the absence of starting outside hitter Ruby Stocking in a four-game win over Crater in the Southern Sky Conference opener for both teams Thursday at Crater High.

The Comets took Game 2 and led most of the way in Game — before the Grizzlies roared back to life just in time to salvage a 25-11, 21-25, 28-26, 25-22 victory.

Samantha Gilbert spiked 17 kills, Kiley Pinder had 32 assists and Taylor Hartrick added 11 digs and seven blocks, as the Grizzlies earned their 31st straight league win dating back to Oct. 7 of 2004, a run that includes a Southern Oregon Conference title in 2005 and SSC title in 2006.

"I think we came out really strong in that first game and were really aggressive, then kind of lost it a little bit in the second game," Ashland first-year head coach Jodee Scott said. "I think we have a lot more to offer and (Stocking) is a big loss. She's just real steady and has a calming presence. Finding someone to step up when she's not doing that is a hard task, but they did it and they did a good job of not letting the match slip away."

After squeaking out Game 3, Ashland fell behind again, 21-20, in the fourth game. Asia Kane's dink kill tied it up and sparked a four-point run for Ashland highlighted by a Gilbert blast to the floor that gave the Grizzlies a 23-21 lead. Niki Small continued the run with a spike into the far left corner and two points later she clinched the win by slamming the ball through Crater's overwhelmed block.

Small added seven kills for Ashland and Pinder had four aces.

Ashland played the entire game without Stocking, one of the top all-around players in the state who's nursing sore ribs (she's expected to return next week). The loss didn't seem to effect the Grizzlies during their dominating opening game, but Crater won the last four points of Game 2 to even the match.

Suddenly looking vulnerable, things got a little scarier for Ashland in Game — when a block gave Crater two game points at 24-22. Small came up with back-to-back big plays to tie it up &

first a kill, then a block. The Comets earned two more game points. They wasted the first on a serving error and the second on a lifted set.

Ashland didn't let its chance to take control slip away. Gilbert's spike finished a point that was originally saved by Dana Saladoff's diving dig, giving Ashland a 27-26 lead, and a service return error ended it.

"The intensity was definitely at the top &

we were all really intense," Gilbert said. "We came into it and we were like, 'We need to win this game, we need to do our best, we need to put our all in to everything we do.'"

That intensity was evident at the start, when the Grizzlies won eight of the first nine points and took huge Game — leads of 17-8 and 22-10 before eventually winning by 14.

Sports editor can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.