SPRINGFIELD -- 3A looks good on Valley Catholic.
The Valiants, in their first year in the division after several years in 4A, used their amazing energy, unyielding grit and short memory to sweep defending champion Burns, 25-15, 25-19, 27-25, on Saturday night at the OSAA /OnPoint Community Credit Union State Volleyball Championships in Springfield.
Valley Catholic won the first two sets in convincing fashion but needed a stunning 10-2 rally to end Game 3 to close out the Hilanders, avenging a 26-24, 25-23 tournament loss in October.
The Valiants, who won 4A crowns in 2018 and 2019, now have three championships over the last four years that OSAA has contested state tournament events.
Relentless serving pressure keyed the win. Not only did the Valiants register 14 aces in the three-set match, they also continuously forced Burns out of its regular offense and into less effective secondary and tertiary options.
“Our serve-receive broke down,” said Burns coach Paula Toney. “We couldn’t get the ball to our hitters. We weren’t able to capitalize on slides.”
“We knew coming in that we were probably the two best serving teams,” said Valley Catholic coach Becky Kemper. “We knew we needed to serve them deep. We executed the plan, got them out of system a lot so that they couldn’t set their big hitters as nicely as they’d like. And we never let up. We never let them get runs of points and we stayed in every single point.”
The match started with Valley Catholic racing to a 5-1 lead in the first set. Addie Emerson had two kills in the run and libero Sophia Rewers added an ace. After each point, Valiant players celebrated like they’d already won the title.
Most teams play with joy – volleyball is a joyous sport that allows both sides to celebrate often during a set – but this was different. The emotion, the caring, the love; they were all palpable.
Where does it come from?
“I really think it’s the team itself,” Rewers said. “We all get on our hands and knees to cheer on each other and lift ourselves up. The spirit we give each other lifts everyone up. It’s our loudness and cheeriness that helps everyone.”
Down four, the defending champions went on a mini run to get within one, keyed by a kill from Caitlyn Horrell and her combo block with Mackenzie King.
Valley Catholic, which defeated league foe Horizon Christian of Tualatin in the quarterfinals and swept top-seeded Sisters in the semis, did not allow the defending champs to go ahead, however. The Valiants played without fear, even when making mistakes, and with an energy that came from being confident, being prepared.
Kemper said that preparation for this moment, starting in pre-season team camp and continuing all season long, was the reason her team played with such grit and determination.
The team focused its end-of-season preparation on training the brain. They read the book, “Victory Favors the Fearless: How to Defeat the 7 Fears That Hold You Back” together.
“The book teaches that you can’t be afraid,” Kemper said. “You just have to go after it. Trust your teammates. That energy allows you to get those digs or that hit you didn’t think you could get. You have to go for it. You’ll never regret going for it.”
Leading 6-5, Valley Catholic went on a mini-run, which included a kill from sophomore middle Willa Kayfes and an ace off the net from Jojo Christiansen, to create a little separation, then went on a MUCH bigger run two points later, which put the set away. Kayfes served three aces during the 8-0 stretch and Valley Catholic got kills from Fran Eisenhardt and Taina Pinheiro to extend the advantage to a robust 16-6.
“I felt we came out pretty tight,” said Toney, who has coached the Hilanders to eight state titles. “We hadn’t been playing well all weekend. Some of it is you get a target on your back from winning last year. We’ve had pressure all season with that, so I feel we came out pretty tight.”
Despite the big lead, Valley Catholic never let up. The Valiants never let Burns get closer than eight points the rest of the set. Great offensive balance, orchestrated by Katiya Arellano, had Burns scrambling to cover all of Valley Catholic’s hitters. Five different players combined for 11 kills in Game 1, including two late scoring swings from lefty outside hitter Abby Berndt, one of only three seniors on the roster.
The second set started out the same way for both teams. Burns’ first lead of the match came at 1-0 on a kill from sophomore Akylah Kaino, a budding star. Valley Catholic countered with five straight points, starting with a score out of the middle from Pinheiro. The fast-leaping sophomore, who was on JV a year ago, has been a revelation this year.
“Starting the year I thought she was probably going to be on JV again,” Kemper said. “The amount of improvement Taina had is absolutely astonishing.”
Two Rewers aces and two kills from Berndt, seniors who had great matches in their last high school showing; extended the Valiant advantage and ramped up the energy on their side of the net.
“We were not able to match their energy,” Toney said. “In the past we have come out flat and worked through that. But we didn’t do that tonight.”
With Valley Catholic threatening to make an early getaway with the set, King injected some life into her Hilander team. One of the leading hitters in the state, the junior scored to earn a Burns side out and stop the Valiant run and, a few points later, went on a serving run that helped Burns catch Valley Catholic at 9-9.
The teams sided out for a few points to stay in touch with one another, but with Valley Catholic up by one, the Valiants scored six straight to take control at 19-12. Berndt, Kayfes and Emerson had kills during the run. By contrast, Burns had only had three players register kills the entire match to that point!
Valley Catholic extended its lead to 24-15 thanks to a Christiansen ace and two kills from Kayfes, a sophomore who went to middle school at Valley Catholic and transferred back to the school this year after a season at Westview.
“I wasn’t expecting her,” Kemper said. “What a gift!”
Down big, King again injected life into Burns with a kill and back-to-back-to-back aces. They scoring spree wasn’t enough to prevent Valley Catholic from winning – Kayfes took care of that with her eighth kill of the night – but it did give the Hilanders that energy boost they were seeking.
Burns played even with Valley Catholic for most of the third set, giving Hilanders hope that they could fight their way back into the match. Kaino had five kills and a block over Burns’ first 12 points to counter multiple kills apiece from Berndt and Pinheiro. Tied at 12-12, Kayfes scored to put Valley Catholic up by one, only to see Burns respond with two King kills off of pinpoint sets from Ashley Wright.
With the set still knotted, this time at 16-16, King delivered her fourth kill of the net, then went back behind the service line, where she’s already had four aces over the first two sets.
The junior was serving rockets just one day after she struggled to control her serves.
King aced again. And again. And one more time for good measure! Five aces in a row to put Burns up 22-16, just three points away from forcing a fourth set.
The teams traded points – Valley Catholic stopping the ace streak thanks to a Burns ball handling error and Burns scored on a Horrell block – which moved Burns to within two points of the set while maintaining a six-point cushion.
Although a favorable outcome in the set appeared bleak, Valley Catholic chose to be fearless. Emerson got the serve back for the Valiants with a kill and Berndt followed with a block to slice the lead to four.
With every point, Valley Catholic’s energy and determination to win the title NOW was more evident.
Eisenhardt served an ace. Emerson then tooled the block, with Berndt and Rewers doing yeoman work defensively at the net.
The lead was now just two! Could Valley Catholic come all the way back?
Kaino stopped Valley Catholic’s run with her 12th kill of the night. Burns had three set points to close this one out.
Valley Catholic saved one on Berndt’s butterfly kill. A hitting error and Rewers ace followed, tying the score. The Valiants, who’d score seven of the nine previous points, tacked on one more as Emerson, an athletic sophomore, again tooled the block.
Championship point Valley Catholic!
The Valiants almost won on the next serve, but Rewers’ offering barely missed the corner, giving Burns renewed hope. It was squandered when the Hilanders followed suit with a serve beyond the end line, giving Valley Catholic its second championship point. Valley Catholic cashed this one in when Arellano fed Kayfes for the dogpile-resulting final kill.
Toney was surprised that her Burns team couldn’t get to a fourth set.
“We reenergized ourselves a little but then we started getting hesitant again, even at the end of the third when we were ahead,” she said. “It just didn’t go our way.”
Kayfes was named Player of the Match and rightly so. She had 12 kills against just one error, with three aces. But Valley Catholic is so much more than a one-player show.
“Each individual player had a job and all executed it perfectly,” Kemper said.
Rewers said after the match that winning it all with a path that required the Valiants to go through a league foe, the top seed and defending champion, made the title that much sweeter.
“We took it one game at a time, one point at a time,” she explained. “We didn’t overlook anything and made sure to cover our base;, make sure we watched film. After our win over Sisters, Katiya [Arellano] said, “We studied for a test and we aced all the answers, because we knew what was on the test.” We were going in prepared and knew we were prepared. So we came in with a confidence about us.”
Asked to compare the three titles Valley Catholic has captured under Kemper, she said the first one got the team over the hump after they’d been on the doorstep for several years.
“These last two are ones to enjoy.”
In the 3rd/5th match:
No. 1 Sisters 3, No. 15 Siuslaw 0 -- Junior OH Gracie Vohs had herself a day as the Outlaws won convincingly to take home third place. Whether swinging conventionally or getting a little goofy, everything the 6-1 Vohs attacked turned to gold. Siuslaw had to be perfect to counter that. The Vikings were good – especially OHs Desi Tupua and Hailee Outlaw and MB Rhianna Lane – but not quite good enough. Sisters opened up commanding leads in each set, including 7-1 in the third, and would not be denied. Libero Mia Monaghan and RS Kathryn Scholl also enjoyed nice days for Sisters, which won on a Holly Davis ace serve. With only three seniors on the roster, Sisters, which has finished second and third over the past two years, should again be a favorite to win state in 2023.
In the 4th/6th match:
No. 4 Horizon Christian 3, No. 3 Santiam Christian 2 – Senior OH Reagan Anderson had five kills in the fifth set to help Horizon Christian rally all the way back from a two sets to one deficit. Horizon Christian won the first set in bizarre circumstances – getting to 25 when the scoreboard and fans in the stands thought it was 24 – but Santiam Christian shook that off to take the next two sets, thanks to strong play from Joya Euhus and Maddie Fields. Horizon rallied thanks to strong play from OH Sadie Eisert and twins Sammie and Ellie McDonald, which set the stage for Anderson, who was good all match, to take over in the fifth set. The senior had the first kill and another to make it 5-1 Hawks. Two more Anderson missiles extended the advantage to 13-6. Elise Linderman had a kill and Tayla Yost a solo block to give the Eagles hope, but Anderson snuffed out thoughts of a rally with one final kill and a Santiam Christian hitting error clinched Horizon’s best-ever finish.