[Editor’s note: The idea behind “Alphabet Stories” is to write one noteworthy athletics-related story about each OSAA-member school. We started with Adrian HS on Sept.18. Today’s story, almost seven months later, is about Damascus Christian School. The goal is to write two per week all the way to Yoncalla! While we will be relying upon athletic directors to furnish story ideas, anyone may offer suggestions by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org]
Damascus Christian’s girls volleyball was good.
After placing fourth at State in 1A in 2019, ninth-year head coach Emily Russau said that the 2021 Season 2 team, with four returning starters, was the strongest the school has ever had.
In this COVID-delayed, shortened season, the Eagles, with four seniors on the nine-player roster, needed more than a match or two in culminating week to complete what, for some, would be their high school volleyball careers. They needed more. Something special. Something memorable.
Since early in the 2021 season, hosting a season-ending tournament featuring the best teams in 1A had been in the works at Damascus Christian. The father of a parent approached athletic director Kristen Sandy about the idea and a bunch of folks got together to make it happen.
“We were thinking of a way to get the girls playing in something more than just the end of our league,” Russau said. “We wanted to have something to close the season for them.”
Sandy started reaching out to schools that were in the state tournament last year and were having good seasons in 2021. She learned that Powder Valley, which was having the best season of any team in 1A, also was hosting its own event about five hours to the east and would not come. Other teams, however, including 2019 1A champion St. Paul, were excited to come to Damascus to cap the year.
The tournament came together formally about three weeks before season’s end, but it wasn’t smooth sailing.
“The week of the tournament, I had a team drop out due to a positive COVID case,” Sandy explained. “I then filled that spot with another school, but that school couldn’t play cause of travel restrictions due to their district.”
Sandy enlisted a league opponent, Open Door Christian, to become the eighth team and it completed a strong field, which included five teams that finished their league slates with at most one loss.
The matches were very competitive. All but 1-2 in the double-elimination format, intended to mimic State, went beyond three sets. St. Paul reached the championship match after four-set tussles with Open Door and North Douglas. Damascus Christian (15-2) opened with a sweep of Jewell, then needed four sets to get by North Clackamas Christian.
Russau said that her girls played focused and at a high level to reach the championship match. COVID may have taken a full season from them. COVID may have robbed them of the chance to contend for an OSAA-sponsored state title. But they were intent on finishing the season they had the right way.
“It was in the back of their minds wishing it was different,” Russau explained. “They pushed back that thought to make the best of it. They didn’t go into it thinking, ‘This isn’t State and doesn’t count. They went in excited to be a part of something. I was proud of them for not letting that get in the way. They played their hearts out despite the circumstances.”
Over at Powder Valley, the Badgers, who swept Damascus Christian on April 3, made a statement by sweeping through their tournament. Damascus Christian made a statement of its own with a dominating championship match sweep of St. Paul.
“Both teams came in with energy,” Russau said. “The gym was loud despite limited spectators. We had to work for every point.”
Led by S/OHs Savannah Hale and Sierra Hale, MB Julia Mitchell and libero McKenna Patrick, Damascus Christian dominated the first set, 25-10. The Eagles fell behind, 8-3, in the early stages of Game 2, but rallied to take the lead on successive Mitchell aces and closed the set on a 7-2 run. Damascus Christian opened a three-point margin early in the third and maintained it to the end. Savannah Hale’s ace serve took the Eagles to championship point at 24-18. A St. Paul hitting error seconds later finished the season and started the celebration.
“Our girls worked hard and did the little things to win a few more points each game,” Russau said. “They knew it was their last game on their home court. They put their hearts out on the court and performed really well. It was one of our best games of the season.”
“It was such a great tournament and a great way for these girls to end their season!” Sandy said.