Welcome to the final Oregon high school volleyball notebook of Season 2. Let’s get after the news and notes from the season that was.
“We are the champions!”
After a five-week regular season in which most teams stayed close to home, Week 6 -- the “culminating week” -- took different forms in different parts of the state and different enrollment classifications.
In 6A and 5A, it was business as usual, as top teams sought out match-ups to test their bona fides. In 4A and 3A, a state tournament of sorts took place, although without complete representation. In the two smallest classifications, there appeared to be a hodgepodge of culminating tourneys and seeking out the best competition amenable to playing.
Whatever form the culminating week took, one thing seemed obvious: it was more or less successful.
Can’t be beat, part last!
When we first published “Can’t be beat,” four weeks ago, there were 40 unbeaten schools in the state of Oregon. Two weeks ago, that number had been pared to 22. Now that the season has concluded, the final number is seven.
Three reigning 2019 champions, Jesuit in 6A, Valley Catholic in 4A and Kennedy in 2A, were among the seven unbeaten. McMinnville and South Salem in 6A and Powder Valley and Jordan Valley in 1A also finished undefeated. Malheur County’s Jordan Valley played only four matches; three of which were against High Desert League rival Adrian.
5A and 3A did not finish with any unbeaten teams.
Out at Powder Valley…
A couple of weeks ago, Powder Valley head coach Marji Lind spoke of plans to get the best smaller schools in the northeastern part of the state together for a culminating event. The 1A Badgers not only pulled it off; they dominated to cap a 14-0 year.
“It was a great day with lots of good competition and even better memories being made!” Lind said. “The girls went into the event very focused, just as they would have the State Tournament this year; knowing that this was their year and no other team was going to stand in their way.”
Powder Valley opened with a sweep of previously-undefeated Alsea, then swept Joseph to reach the championship match. Union, a 2A school that took a set off of the Badgers when they first played in mid-March and which was unbeaten against everyone but Powder Valley, was the opponent.
“The girls were glad to get it done in three, leaving no doubt who the champions were, not of just that tournament, but throughout the state,” Lind said. “This season Powder Valley defeated every team they faced, no matter the division. They defeated Burns in three sets (the top 3A team), defeated Baker, a 4A team; defeated 2A Vale and defeated every other ‘top’ 1A team in the state: St. Paul and Damascus Christian, all in three straight sets. So, with all of that said, I believe it does make Powder Valley the Small School State Champions! This group of girls, especially the five seniors, has worked for so many years to achieve the level of play that they have. Any and all credit that can be given them, they deserve. I do not believe that any coach or spectator would argue that this truly was Powder Valley's year to be crowned the 1A State Champions.”
Lind continued: “As for what they will take away from this unusual year is this: 1) don't take anything for granted, because nothing is guaranteed; and 2) situations are what you make of them. These girls chose to fight for what they knew was theirs, and they enjoyed every minute of their success together. No regrets. And, finally, 3) gratitude for what they were able to experience and accomplish, instead of being angry for what was not. Those were the words our seniors gave their teammates at the last practice of the season. What a great perspective!”
Damascus Christian hosted its own culminating week tournament for 1A schools closer to the Portland metro area. The Eagles, whose only losses came to Union and Powder Valley, defeated Jewell, North Clackamas Christian and St. Paul, the reigning state champion, to win the event.
While Damascus Christian would have loved another shot at Powder Valley, 25-18, 25-18, 25-22, when the teams played early in April, it is fair to recognize Powder Valley as the best team in 1A in Season 2 based on the resume the Badgers compiled. Coach Lind’s team took on all comers and sent every last one of them to defeat. That’s what a championship team does.
Season of change more of the same for Kennedy
Kennedy graduated the best 2A player in the state, Sophia Carley, after winning the state title in 2019. The team also underwent a coaching change and saw one of its best young players transfer to 3A Santiam Christian. So what happened? The Trojans went 16-0 and defeated nine different teams. No team in any classification won more matches.
Kennedy used the culminating week to play three teams it had already defeated in a league playoff. The Trojans lost only one set, in the final versus Salem Academy, the only team to challenge them during the season. They finished the year with 48 sets won against just three lost.
Was Kennedy better than Union, which finished fourth in 2019 and lost only to Powder Valley in Season 2? Or 12-1 Monroe or 11-2 Gaston? I guess we’ll never know.
Burns scorching hot in 3A
All six 3A leagues were invited to participate in a 3A culminating week “State Tournament,” with the semifinals and finals at Creswell HS. The Lewis & Clark League opted out, but there was at least one representative school from each of the other leagues.
Burns (15-1) emerged victorious, and handed Santiam Christian, the 2019 3A champion; and Cascade Christian their only Season 2 losses in the process. The Hilanders defeated Santiam Christian in four sets and Cascade Christian in three.
“We were so excited that the bracket was set so we would be able to play the only two undefeated 3A teams in Oregon,” said Burns coach Paula Toney. “This would leave no doubt in our minds. ‘You have to beat the best to be the best.’"
Burns finished sixth in 3A in 2019. The Hilanders defeated Horizon Christian (Tualatin) in four sets to get to the fourth/sixth match. Having gone undefeated in 3A play (their lone loss to undefeated 1A Powder Valley, 15-11 in the fifth set), Burns was excited to show everyone that it was the state’s best in 3A.
“We have a few seniors and a couple of juniors that have worked hard for years for this moment to have the opportunity to play the best in the state,” Toney said. “The girls came in loose. They had been working hard on their weaknesses and creating team trust in this program the past couple of weeks.”
Toney said that her players will always remember this season, and not just because of the 3A dominance that Burns displayed.
“This unusual year, we have had more bumps and obstacles than usual,” Toney explained. “Planning anything was impossible. We lived and played day by day and had to learn to be very flexible and open-minded to continue to play and work to better ourselves each day as players, coaches and a team. In these unusual times, the kids probably ended up with a better team bond than most prior years' teams, as they seemed to face some sort of unusual adversity every day that they had to overcome. We never knew if or when our next match would be, so we worked to enjoy every moment that we were able to be on the court with each other.”
Horizon a fine sight for Lewis & Clark
While the 3A Lewis & Clark League opted out of a statewide 3A tournament, the league did play its own tournament to determine a champion. Saturday’s final pitted top seed Catlin Gabel and No. 2 seed Horizon Christian of Tualatin. The teams had split two prior meetings, but Saturday’s rubber match belonged to Horizon, 25-21, 25-22, 25-23, and capped a 13-1 season for the Hawks exclusively against league opponents.
The championship match on Saturday was a battle from start to finish, Horizon Christian coach Jay Lazaro said. Senior Alyssa Smith led the charge as the Hawks (13-1) won the first, 25-21. Catlin Gabel’s Natalie Potter got hot hitting from the outside in Game 2, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Horizon from taking it to build a two-set lead. In Game 3, HC sophomore Reagan Anderson came alive. She scored at will, on assists from freshman Sam McDonald, and the teams went toe-to-toe for every point. At the end, Horizon took the third set, and the match, at deuce, sparked by the blocking of seniors Molly Brennan and Grayson Carley.
Road triumph for Sweet Home in 4A
OSAAtoday covered Sweet Home’s 3-1 win over Sisters in the 4A culminating week tournament final at Pleasant Hill HS. Read about the match here: https://www.osaa.org/today/article/2044/view?title=Volleyball%3A+Sweet+Home+takes+4A+title+over+conference+rival. With the win, the Huskies (14-1) claimed 4A supremacy, albeit with a catch: 2019 4A champion Valley Christian, which was undefeated in Season 2 and had not lost a set, opted out of the tournament in deference to Season 3 sports.
Gotta be the Wildcats in 5A
On April 3, La Salle Prep shocked previously-unbeaten Wilsonville, 22-25, 22-25, 25-23, 25-23, 15-13. Wilsonville played without three starters, including setter McKenna Wiepert and OH Ashli Edmiston, two of the best players in the state.
“I have zero doubt that a match at full strength would have been a repeat of the straight set win [32-30, 25-10, 25-22] when the Wildcats swept LaSalle earlier in the year,” Wilsonville coach Nathan Blankenship said. “In fact, at full roster, the team was even stronger than early in the season as we had had time to work out the kinks of the early matches, and dramatically improve our defense, blocking, and the speed of our offense.”
Wilsonville set out to prove it was the best in 5A by taking on, and defeating, 6A opponents Oregon City and always-tough Sunset during the culminating week. La Salle also played two 6A opponents, Reynolds and Sandy, and suffered defeats at the hands of each.
“The wins in the culminating week were a great opportunity to get all the players in, and the Sunset match was particularly enjoyable as Sunset has the biggest block we have seen, and some excellent hitters and coaching,” Blankenship said. “Both teams played the entire bench with clear intention of finishing the season on a high note and assuring that the Wildcats’ three seniors and Sunset’s 10 seniors finished their high school season competing at a high caliber, and with the great sportsmanship we look forward to from such a great program.”
On a Crusade in 6A, but what about the Grizzlies and Saxons?
Last Wednesday, after undefeated Jesuit, the 2019 6A state champion, swept then-unbeaten West Linn, OSAAtoday declared the Crusaders, who also knocked off 6A power Central Catholic one day earlier, the de facto 6A champions. Read that story here: https://www.osaa.org/today/article/2036/view?title=Volleyball%3A+Jesuit+passes+test.
That didn’t sit well with Ben Patterson, the head coach of 13-0 McMinnville, which cruised through its season with just five dropped sets.
McMinnville correctly pointed out that, in Jesuit’s 2019 championship season, McMinnville defeated the Crusaders at the Liberty Tournament. The Grizzlies, in Season 2, defeated Jesuit’s Metro League foe, Sunset, in four sets. Jesuit twice defeated Sunset, once by sweep, once in five sets.
“While I understand that Jesuit is very, very, very solid, and may very well be the best team in the state, dubbing that game the ‘title tilt’ doesn't quite feel fair to the accomplishments of my kids,” Patterson said. “I understand that historically both Jesuit and West Linn have been state powerhouses; but every now and then, other teams do rise up and deserve a little respect. I have a feeling the folks down at South Salem would agree with me.”
Patterson was referring to the 12-0 Saxons, whose season got started a little later than most but who lost just three sets on the year.
McMinnville did not reach the state tournament in 2019, because of a Round 2 loss to Central Catholic in legendary coach Rick Lorenz’ last year. The Grizzlies recovered from a slow start to the 2019 season to finish 10-1 over their last 11 matches (loss only to 5A Wilsonville), but that was good enough only for a No. 15 seed, which meant Central in the second round.
“We jumped out to a 16-11 lead in the first set but it was all downhill from there,” Patterson explained.
“We brought back almost everybody and that included six seniors who decided that one of our goals would be to make the final eight this season,” Patterson continued. “There was no final eight this season, so we adjusted our goals accordingly. One of the new goals was to have an undefeated season. I believe that we were one of the eight best teams in the state this season (possibly top 5) and once you get that far, anything can happen.
“If you were able to watch a little film on us, you would see that we had plus players at every position. We serve and serve receive really well, play a strong and scrappy defense, set well, and have five hitters that can consistently terminate points with big swings.”
It is too bad that 6A couldn’t find a formula for holding a culminating week tournament like 4A and 3A did. That might have given McMinnville and South Salem the chance to test their unbeaten records and maybe make lifetime memories with a series of huge wins.
“I guess that's what state playoffs are for- to find out who really is the best team and put to rest any form of debate,” Patterson said. “There's a good chance that Jesuit or West Linn would shut me up pretty quick. But there's also a chance that they wouldn't. It's a bummer we didn't get the opportunity to find out this year.”
Scott Coons, head coach at McKay, emailed to tell me that his senior captain and libero, Sofia Magana, set a new school single-match record with 27 digs in the Scots’ 3-1 loss to Central on March 29. Three days later, he wrote back to say she broke her own mark, recording 31 digs in McKay’s match versus Crescent Valley. “Second time in one week” Coons exclaimed. “Girl is on fire!”
6A Lincoln was undefeated until losing to McMinnville during the culminating week. Cardinal coach Jeanell Franceschi said the team’s 14-1 record surprised everyone. “Our team’s resilience during these times was nothing short of incredible,” she added.
Lincoln went through the PIL unbeaten and took hard work and dedication.
“Our team takeaway is that there are no circumstances in which you can't not be great,” she explained. “We played games in quiet gyms, and had to find ways to be our own biggest cheerleaders, something that traditionally we would rely on our fans for. This was something we had to dig deep to achieve - how do we keep ourselves engaged, and energized in a game that has no spectators? Who do we play for? Each other or the crowd? Obviously the answer is we play for each other. There is no better cheerleader than your teammate, who is working hard right next to you. We play for them, we cheer for them and we fight for them. Once we really started to embody this mindset, our team just took off. We were unstoppable and team morale was the highest I had seen in a long time despite being in the middle of a pandemic and not seeing each other for a whole year.
“During a time of uncertainty we were able to come in a create a safe space where everyone was able to feel welcomed, listened to and supported. We worked hard and played harder. We were extremely bummed that Oregon did not pursue any state tournaments or any true district championships; we wanted to see how far we could go. We deserved to have that opportunity, but, alas, the world had other plans. We might not have gotten the chance to cement our successes in the record books, but we know what we accomplished this season was truly special and that is the ultimate win of the 2021 season.”
Molalla had a great season despite the COVID challenges.
“We had a lot of fun, enjoyed our time in the gym, and really focused on the successes, no matter how small,” head coach Lauree Nelzen said. “I've been coaching at Molalla for six years, and this year our program saw its FIRST 1st Team All-League recipient, Olivia Lewis, a junior. Two of my assistant coaches reached big milestones also - Susan Doveton finished her 10th year of coaching; and Ray Nunn finished his 50th year of coaching....yes, that's right: 50 years!!”
COVID struck Douglas County, putting it in the “Extreme” level just prior to the start of volleyball.
“As a league, we thought we were done,” noted Days Creek athletic director James Ellis.
Elkton came up with the idea of an outdoor court system, which was supported by the league.
“We were able to hold a successful league schedule by playing outside for the duration,” Ellis said.
Jumping 10-feet on approach remains a lofty goal for most volleyball players. If you get enough air to touch a regulation basketball rim, you have the ability to hit over blockers and pick your own spots. That makes you a very dangerous scorer on the court!
Here is the final list of Oregon volleyball players who touch 10-0 or higher, according to high school coaches who weighed in on the matter:
Emily Bourne, 6-0 Sr. OH, Santiam Christian
Naima Foster, 5-11 Soph. OH, Valley Catholic
Sophia Gregoire-Salagean, 6-2 Soph. OH, Newberg
Harper Justema, 6-2 Sr. MB, Summit
Clarissa Klein, 6-1 Sr. OH, Wilsonville
Audra Wilmes, 6-2 Sr. OH, West Linn
To be recognized here, players need to be current juniors or seniors and have an unweighted GPA of 3.9 or better or a weighted GPA above 4.0. Below are all the “smarty pants” players who fit the description AND were nominated; we all know there are many more of you out there who also are high academic achievers and could be on here:
Erika Adams, 5-10 Jr. MB, Elgin
Izzy Armstrong, 5-9 Sr. OH, Bend
Stella Barber, 5-10 Jr. MB/RS, Newport
Laura Barton, 5-9 Jr. MB, McMinnville
Megan Bushnell, 5-10 Sr. S, Bend
Maisie Davenport, 5-7 Jr. MB, Riddle
Shelie Doman, 5-7 Sr. S, Crane
Hannah Driebergen, 5-8 Sr. OH/MB, Newport
Kaelin Evans, 5-8 Sr. MB, Elgin
Grace France, 5-5 S/RS, Willamina
Ayrica Hansen, 5-10 Jr. MB, Rogue River
Maddison Harvey, 5-8 Sr. OH, Elgin
Madison Hold, 5-0 Sr. S, Riddle
Anna Howard, 5-6 Jr. DS, Rogue River
M'Kenzie Kirchner, 5-8 Sr. S, Newport
Paige Knight, 5-0 Sr. libero, Riddle
Carlee Murray, 5-5 Jr. Libero/OH, Newport
Elyse Patterson, 5-6 Sr. S, McMinnville
Maddy Powell, 5-8 Jr. RS, McMinnville
Ainslie Ridgway, 6-1 Sr. OH, McMinnville
Ella Saltmarsh, 5-11 Sr. MB, McMinnville
Megan Sebree, 5-7 Jr. OH, McMinnville
Jasmine Sells, 5-11 Sr. OH, Lincoln HS
Kelsie Siegner, 5-10 Jr. OH, Crane
Savanna Stillwagner, 5-1 Sr. DS, Rogue River
Laurel Witzel, 5-7 Sr. MB, Crane
In this space, we list those players, in the current senior class and younger, who have signed National Letters of Intent or have made a commitment to attend a college or university of their choice.
Here’s what the final list looks like:
Teja Abbott, 5-9 Sr. RS, Sweet Home -- Bushnell University (Beach volleyball)
Izzy Armstrong, 5-9 Sr. OH, Bend – Slippery Rock University
Brooklyn Bevacqua, 5-10 Jr. S, West Linn – San Diego Christian
Emily Bourne, 6-0 Sr. OH, Santiam Christian – Oregon State
Molly Brennan, 5-8 Sr. OH, Horizon Christian (Tualatin) -- Olympic College
Alison Buchholz, 5-9 Sr. S/RS, Jesuit -- Washington and Lee
Megan Bushnell, 5-10 Sr. S, Bend – Fairleigh Dickinson University
Makenna Collins, 5-4 Sr. libero, Irrigon – Eastern Washington University
Riley Davis, 6-2 Sr. MB, Crane – Otero Junior College
Brooklynn Dechent, 5-10 Sr. MB, Ridgeview – Bushnell University
Maddy Dowdall, 6-0 Sr. OH/MB, Jesuit – Chapman University
Sierra Fitzhugh, 5-8 Sr. MB, Brookings-Harbor -- Oregon Institute of Technology
Caitlin Gay, 5-7 Sr. OH/libero, Canby – Univ. of Idaho
Brynna Geibel, 5-8 Sr. OH, Newberg – Cleveland State University
Katie Graham 6-0 Sr. MB - Horizon Christian Tualatin - Simpson University
Peyton Griffin, 6-0 Sr. S/RS, Jesuit – Cal State East Bay
Gracie Harms, 5-6 Sr. OH/DS, Brookings-Harbor – Oregon State
Bailee Hartsook, 5-11 Sr. OH, Sweet Home – Western Oregon University
Ally Henry, 5-4 Sr. libero, Ridgeview – Western Oregon University
Amanda Henry, 5-11 Sr. OH, Jesuit -- Trinity University (TX)
Savannah Hutchins, 5-5 Sr. S, Sweet Home -- Linn Benton Community College
Makenah Jackson, 6-1 Sr. MB, Central Catholic – Univ. of Idaho
Shelby Jirsa, 5-7 Sr. S, Brookings-Harbor -- Oregon Institute of Technology
Harper Justema, 6-2 Sr. MB, Summit – Columbia University
Presley Justice, 5-8 Sr. S, La Grande – Kentucky Christian University
Clarissa Klein, 6-1 Sr. OH/RS, Wilsonville – Saint Mary’s University
Maddie Klopcic, 6-1 Sr. MB, Valley Catholic -- University of Puget Sound
Matty Ladd, 6-0 Sr. OH/MB, Cottage Grove – Carroll College
Mackenzie Leith, 5-9 Sr. OH, Mountainside – Univ. of Puget Sound
Sydney Marshall, 5-10 Sr. RS/MB, West Linn – Concordia-Irvine (Beach volleyball)
Daley McClellan, 6-0 Sr. OH/DS, Canby – Univ. of Oregon
Emma Mueller, 5-5 Sr. S, Irrigon – Notre Dame of Maryland
Josie Nealon, 5-0 Sr. libero/DS -- Central Linn -- Chemeketa Community College
Shelbey Nichol, 5-11 Sr. MB, Sweet Home -- Linn Benton Community College
Hannah Ramage, 5-6 Sr. libero, Bend – Eastern Oregon University
Ainslie Ridgway, 6-1 Sr. OH, McMinnville – Corban University
Ellie Rush, 5-5 Sr. S, Sisters -- Valley City State University
Jadah Schmidtke, 6-1 Sr. MB, South Albany – Corban University
Sophie Scott, 6-3 Jr. MB, Catlin Gabel – Cal Berkeley
Jasmine Sells, 5-11 Sr. OH, Lincoln HS – Washington University in St. Louis
Jazmine Smith, 5-10 Sr. MB/OH, McMinnville – Montana Western
Lily Snook, 5-7 Sr. libero, West Linn – Portland State
Anessa Stotts, 5-6 Sr. OH/DS, Sisters -- Bushnell University (Beach volleyball)
Emily Warmenhoven, 5-11 Jr. OH, West Linn – Belmont University
Audra Wilmes, 6-2 Sr. OH, West Linn – Univ. of Washington
Sydney Wilson, 5-8 Sr. OH, Heppner -- Walla Walla Community College
Graci Zanona, 5-4 Sr. libero/DS, Sweet Home -- Linn Benton Community College
Kylie Zralka, 6-1 Sr. OH/MB, Tualatin -- Carrol College
I counted and that’s 45 seniors from the Beaver State continuing to stoke their passion for the sport by playing collegiately. Way to go!