The 2019 6A champion Jesuit Crusaders completed an unbeaten, COVID-impacted season on Wednesday evening by sweeping previously unbeaten West Linn, 27-25, 25-12, 25-18, in the season finale for both teams.
Jesuit (14-0) used its dominance in the middle, the incredible all-around play of senior S/RS Alison Buchholz and superior ball control to prevail.
The win came on the heels of a three-set Tuesday win over Central Catholic, the team Jesuit defeated for the 6A title in 2019.
West Linn, which finished fifth in 2019, also defeated Central, which had been undefeated before this week, on Monday. The Lions (11-1) previously twice defeated Canby, which placed third in 2019. There may not have been an actual 6A state championship this school year, but by defeating Central and West Linn on consecutive nights, the Crusaders earned the right to be called the presumptive champions.
Junior Tess Masingale was unstoppable for Jesuit. Taking sets from Buchholz and senior Peyton Griffin, the 6-3 middle finished with a team-high 14 kills. Fellow middle Maddy Dowdall added eight kills and four blocks.
“We knew that going in we had an advantage in the middle,” noted longtime Jesuit coach Teresa Zimmerlee. “It’s nice to have two middles like we have. Our middles had a good game.”
It took a while for Jesuit to get its middles involved, however. That’s because the Crusaders’ vaunted defense struggled for the better part of the first set. West Linn came out serving aggressively, behind setter Kate Griffin, and its crisp passing allowed the Lions to use its superior outside hitters, Emily Warmenhoven and Audra Wilmes, to score in system again and again.
Kate Griffin’s dump, which ended a spirited rally, gave West Linn its largest lead of the set, 18-10, and prompted Jesuit to call its second time out. Out of the time out, Jesuit got the ball to Masingale for a quick attack, her second kill of the match. That seemed to spark the Crusaders. Behind Harper Buchholz’ strong serving, Jesuit scored on consecutive back row block calls, as West Linn’s ball control started to break down.
Volleyball is a game of momentum and momentum often lasts only as long as you control the ball. When West Linn lost the ability to pass, all parts of the Lions’ game, except for Warmenhoven’s attacks, started to break down. West Linn tried to survive to the end of the set and earned set point on Warmenhoven’s eighth kill, but Jesuit would not relent. A Masingale tip tied the set at 24-24 and the Crusaders eventually converted their second set point on a kill from OH Isabel Patterson, a blast that West Linn libero Lily Snook dug, but which the Lions could not control further to keep the ball from falling.
Jesuit’s dominance in the middle continued into the next two sets. Combined with continued passing woes by West Linn, the Lions struggled to stay in the match. West Linn coach Emilie Wilmes said that too many close calls that favored Jesuit’s way contributed to her team’s downfall.
“When the calls are all going one way, it gets demoralizing,” Wilmes said. “They felt helpless and stressed. It turned into a momentum game.”
Jesuit never trailed in winning Game 2, 25-12. Masingale and Dowdall teamed for nine kills for Jesuit, many on sweet sets from Alison Buchholz.
“Alison Buchholz has been on fire,” Zimmerlee said. “She was everywhere tonight.”
Jesuit’s defense also stepped up in a big way. Libero Maisie Alexander, defensive specialist Hannah Nguyen and OH Amanda Henry played flawlessly in the back row in Game 2, which would have been a clinic in how to play a complete game, but for five service errors.
The point, at 17-8 Jesuit, perfectly summed up the set: Kate Griffin, West Linn’s best server, sent a darting serve over the net. Henry, who had to be pulled in the first set to “catch her breath,” passed the serve perfectly to Alison Buchholz, who then fed Dowdall in the middle for the definitive putaway.
“We had to settle down,” Zimmerlee said. “Once we settled down and passed, that was the key.”
Game 3 featured better play from West Linn but the winning formula for Jesuit was the same: a distinct advantage in the middle and strong work on the defensive end.
Kate Griffin served two aces as part of a 3-0 run to open the set for West Linn. Jesuit answered with a 6-0 run on Dowdall’s serve. West Linn fought back to tie the set at 8-9 on a kill and block from Rayna Reynolds, but a sensational one-handed set from Alison Buchholz to Masingale gave Jesuit the lead for good. The Crusaders tacked on eight of the next nine points, which included a terrific Henry save and her scintillating back row swing, to put the game away for good. Peyton Griffin added an ace during the run, her fifth of the match. Jesuit was able to get some reserves into the match down the stretch, including senior Ava Valentine, a backup setter. She had a dig that led directly to Masingale’s 14th kill of the match and gave Jesuit a 23-18 lead. A Dowdall block and final back row block call, in rapid succession, ended the set and gave Jesuit the sweep.
Warmenhoven finished with a match-high 15 kills for West Linn. Audra Wilmes added nine. The Lions also got nice work from setters Kate Griffin and Shealyn Cecil. And Snook was relentless on defense, even when her team was hopelessly behind on the scoreboard.
“It was a game of momentum,” Coach Wilmes correctly noted. “We win that first set and it’s a completely different game.”