By Jeremy McDonald
TURNER, Ore.– It probably wasn’t the senior season that Cascade’s Lucretia Benolken had hoped for, but here she was. Entering the playoffs with her Cougar teammates as they wrapped up a perfect Oregon West Conference schedule knee brace and all following their 25-16, 25-10, 25-6 sweep of Newport on Thursday night at Cascade High School.
“It’s very weird,” laughs Benolken. “I mean my body doesn’t move as quickly as my mind does anymore, so it’s been a weird adjustment. But I feel like my body’s been adjusting to it pretty well and pretty quickly too because that’s what we needed.”
The bulky brace, on her left knee, has been keeping the joint stable since Benolken tore her ACL against Valley Catholic on September 17 at Sisters. Sideline the Outside Hitter presumingly for the remainder of the season as Cascade suffered just one of their three defeats of the regular season that day.
Over the course of the next five weeks, she was on the sidelines supporting her team and being one of the three captains that the squad have this season. Granted it came with its drawbacks of not playing, something that bothered the competitor in Benolken, but Cascade were building up momentum since that loss. Wheeling off five wins before her return at Philomath on October 6.
“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Going from 100 to zero is definitely a weird adjustment. I wanted to play more than I wanted to breathe at that point,” Benolken described those five weeks on the sideline.
And even when she returned, she was limited. Playing the backline for their games against the Warriors and Sweet Home before moving up to the front line against going into the final three league games with Stayton, North Marion and Newport. Slowly testing out the knee joint and seeing what she could do.
Since her return two weeks ago, the Cougars didn’t drop a single league set. The only sets they’ve dropped during the six games Benolken was back was three to Silverton on October 8 and that was part of a five-set battle with the 5A Foxes.
“It’s been a humbling experience, but I’m grateful that I get to play at all,” Benolken said. “I wanted it more than anything, it’s been the biggest deal for me for sure.”
Entering the playoffs as the number-two seed, drawing one of the eight automatic bids into the 4A playoffs and winning ten of the previous eleven games, the season of changes and challenges of filling the void left by last years seniors have benefited the Cougars who will now look to defend their 4A State Title as they continue to improve and work for their goal.
“This next week, we’ll put the work in and get ready for that playoff game and play our hearts out,” said Benolken.
Benolken had four aces in the Senior Night win. Annabelle Peterson had 13 kills, Meah Carley had 30 assists and Jadyn Daviscourt had 10 digs. Bella Oliver also had 11 kils for the Cougs in the win.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald