Pleasant Hill is into the 3A championship match two years after a 7-9 season
Pleasant Hill is into the 3A championship match two years after a 7-9 season

SPRINGFIELD – This may be unfamiliar territory for the Pleasant Hill Billies, but you wouldn’t know it by the way they swept past Creswell and Santiam Christian yesterday to reach tonight’s 3A final at the 2023 OSAA /OnPoint Community Credit Union State Volleyball Championships.

Before last year, when Pleasant Hill was 19-3, the Billies had not had a winning season since 2015.

Before last year, when Jessica Crawford’s team made the state playoffs and reached the second round (losing to Siuslaw), Pleasant Hill hadn’t been in the state playoffs in forever.

Before this year, the Billies hadn’t made the “State 8” since 1995.

After two wins yesterday, Pleasant Hill will be looking to add a second blue trophy to its trophy case to join the one it collected way back in 1974, almost 50 years ago.

“We’ve been working and building up the confidence that we deserve to be here,” said junior libero Emily Krauss. “It’s nice to show people that we can be a volleyball school.”

The key to the turnaround has been a youthful talent infusion. The Billies had four freshmen on the roster in 2021 when they went 7-9. Three of those freshmen, setter Claire Crawford, OH Cheyenne Green and Krauss, are now foundational pieces of the current team, as is junior middle Ruby Jackson, who joined last year. Two impact freshmen, OH Anna Crawford and RS Sari Strinz, joined this season and helped create a well-rounded team with skill and experience at every position.

“They are exciting, fun to watch and likeable,” Coach Crawford said.

This year’s team came to Springfield having lost just three times on the year – once to 5A Crater in the team’s second match of the season, and twice to Mountain Valley Conference for Sisters, the team they will meet for the championship this evening. They play such a fun brand of volleyball that it’s no wonder practically the entire student body, pep band included, came out to watch and root them on.

“How awesome are they?” Crawford exclaimed. “I can’t thank them enough. The school really rallied around the team. We just have a great fan base.”

Crawford said the team prepared for the pressure of the state tournament environment by leaning into its experience over the year.

“We set ourselves up with a tough run of matches and tournaments,” she explained. “That gave us a good foundation and we used that as our starting point. We talked a lot about believing in ourselves and having that base confidence.”

“We have a really good team dynamic,” Krauss added. “We go into every match thinking, ‘We got this.’”

On Friday morning, Pleasant Hill started slowly versus Creswell before taking control.

“I’ll give it to the nerves, but I’m really proud of them for taking that breath staying confident and earning points back,” Crawford said.

A locked in Pleasant Hill team was in control throughout in the semifinals versus Santiam Christian, a regular at the state tournament with nine title all-time.

“It's determination,” Krauss said. “We’ve all worked hard this season. We’ve worked through injuries, people switching positions. It’s all what makes our team so special.”

Tonight, Pleasant Hill will have the chance to do something that was a pipe dream just a few short seasons ago. Top-seeded Sisters will be favored and should be. The Outlaws twice defeated Pleasant Hill this season, with each match going four sets.

Krauss isn’t intimidated. She said her team won’t be, either.

“We’re just going to go out and play our game like we know we can,” she said.

Recapping yesterday’s play:

4A quarterfinals

Marshfield 3, The Dalles 0 – The defending 4A champions opened their quest to repeat with a resounding win over the Riverhawks. Unsung setter Ava Ainsworth and southpaw smacker Bridget Gould were the catalysts in the win. Ainsworth, who stands 6-1, used her soft hands and savvy court sense to direct a relentless offense. Gould found the floor, both on attack and with her blocking, consistently, but was especially effective in a 5-0 sequence early in Game, where she scored every point for the Pirates. The Dalles, which was under .500 as recently as two years ago, fought gamely behind crackerjack players Jeilane Stewart and Zoe LeBreton, but they were simply outgunned.

Cascade 3, North Bend 1 – Cascade led by seven points midway through the fourth set, just as the Cougars had led in Game 3. This time, there was no let up. Behind the play of setter Irene Rocha Ibarra and OH Kamryn Sande, Cascade kept its intensity through the final point, a kill out of the middle from Tayler Kamm, to make the semifinals. The Cougars saw senior middle Annabelle Peterson, a prolific scorer, have a rare quiet game, but made up for it thanks to nice work on the pins from Sande, Bella Oliver and Emma Kirschenmann and solid work from a trio of back row denizens, libero Jadyn Daviscourt and defenders Alexis Percy and Amyah Miranda. North Bend got terrific work in the back row from libero Mirra Riddle, who was both steady and spectacular; and up front from Lennon Riddle and Drew Hood.

Mazama 3, Tillamook 0 – Devastating runs by the victorious Vikings in both the first and second sets took the wind out of Tillamook’s sails in a match with 20 seni. ors combined on the rosters. Tillamook led Game 1, 12-7, before an 11-0 Mazama run, fueled by the serving and setting of Alexia Lowe and the terminal hitting of Gilliam Merhoff. Merhoff had six kills in the run and also delivered the game clincher in the 25-20 win. Tillamook, getting strong work from Dannika Goss and Kate Klobas, led Game 2, 19-10. But the Cheesemakers could not hold off Mazama, which used offense from Merhoff, Isabella Lowe, Abbigayle Beals and Nishika Irish to close on a soul-crushing 15-3 run. Game 3 was a blowout, with Alexia Lowe finishing off the sweep with a right-side swing.

Marist Catholic 3, Crook County 2 – The second-seeded Spartans rallied from down two sets to zero to keep their title hopes alive. Crook County, channeling the fighting spirit of legendary Cowgirl head coach Rosie Honl, fought from behind in the first and second sets to grab control. The team from Prineville played with grit and high energy and got amazing play from libero Jaycee Villastrigo, MB Lillimae Brumble and both setters, Joann McKinnon and Callie Winebarger, especially in Game 2, 1 30-28 win. Marist Catholic settled in to start Game 3, leading attacker Giana Elgarico got more heavily involved, and freshman setter found her rhythm, attacking the second contact with a powerful lefty strike, piling up aces from the end line and making her hitters shine. Give Crook County credit. The Cowgirls continued to fight with all they had. But once the momentum turned, Marist Catholic’s superior depth took over for the win.

4A Semifinals

Marshfield 3, Cascade 0 – The defending champion Pirates moved one game from repeating as state champions by sweeping a competitive Cascade team late Friday evening. Marshfield got great production on both pins from the senior tandem of Paige MacDuff and Bridget Gould and senior libero Gracie Peach was steady in the back row and contributed several very timely ace serves. MacDuff was at her best at the conclusion of a decisive Game 1 win, where she authored three kills and a game-winning block to account for four of the Pirates’ last seven points. Peach’s serving helped Marshfield erase a slim Game 2 deficit. Gould was at her best in Game 3 and delivered the match ender with a vicious left-handed swipe. Cascade got a brilliant game from libero Jadyn Daviscourt and senior MB Annabelle Peterson was an asset at the net and from behind the service line.

Marist Catholic 3, Mazama 1 – Marist Catholic played its second consecutive absolute grinder of a match and found a way to come out on top. The Spartans squandered two set points in the first and lost, 27-25, on a tip from Mazama’s Nishika Irish, but they won the other end-game rallies against a very game Mazama team that got brilliant play from Cali Bitzer, Isabella Lowe and Gillian Merhoff. After taking Game 2, 25-22, and Game 3, 28-26, Marist Catholic appeared unable to close out the match in four sets, as Cascade erupted for a 12-1 run that made it 16-10 Vikings. Marist Catholic answered Cascade’s massive run with an even more massive one of its own. Led by Avia Tuguldur, who was brilliant throughout; and Ava Roundy, the Spartans scored 15 of the match’s final 17 points to pull out the four-set win. Late-set highlights included Giana Elgarico getting off the deck after keeping a ball up to make a block at the net and Elgarico’s kill to the middle of the court to close out the match.

3A Quarterfinals

Valley Catholic 3, Burns 0 – The state finals rematch from a year ago was no contest, as the defending champion Valiants jumped on under-manned Burns from the start and never relented. Valley Catholic opened the match with strong serving from senior setter Katiya Arellano and that serving never relented. Burns, playing without All-State hitter Mackenzie King (knee) and with leading hitter Akylah Kaino (knee) hobbled, needed a strong pass game to hang with the Valiants, but it was simply not there, as Valley Catholic served ace after ace. The defending champions also got strong games at the net from Addie Emerson and Madison Sherby. Burns got a serving spark in Game 2 from OH Jocelyn Graham but it wasn’t nearly enough to affect the outcome of the match.

Sisters 3, Corbett 0 – Top-seeded Sisters made quick work of Corbett, sprinting to a 17-2 lead in Game 1, on the strength of serving from Jordyn Monaghan and hitting from Gracie Vohs; and never relented in the sweep. Bailey Robertson and Kathryn Scholl were also impressive for the victorious Outlaw team against a young but very long and athletic Corbett team making its first appearance at the state tournament in a decade. Junior OH Sammi Blume, junior middle Ursula Harrington and junior setter Greta Miller all played with distinction for the Cardinals.

Santiam Christian 3, Cascade Christian 2 – Junior OH/MB Joya Euhas had eight kills in the final set, including the clincher, to propel the Eagles past Cascade Christian in a thriller. After the teams split the first four sets – Cascade Christian taking Games 1 and 4 and Santiam Christian Game 2 and 3 – it appeared that the Eagles would run away and hide in the fifth after they bolted to a 13-5 lead. Cascade Christian surged back into contention on the strength of a 5-0 run but the Challengers’ momentum was blunted by a missed serve. Euhas delivered the match-ender on the next point. Euhas and senior pin Teagan Wilson both had big games for the victors. Poppy Freeman and Maddie Todd were impact contributors for Cascade Christian.

Pleasant Hill 3, Creswell 0 – Pleasant Hill started the match slowly before finding its footing and sweeping the Bulldogs. The Billies got a huge lift from their amazing pep band and a robust student section. Ruby Jackson, Claire Crawford, Anna Crawford, Mallory McGuire and Emily Krauss all shined in the win for Pleasant Hill, as did Oregon State pledge Cheyenne Green, who wowed the crowd with some awe-inspiring attacks. Lizabelle Osborn and Piper Hanson, a spunky freshman, helped Creswell stay close in all three sets.

3A Semifinals

Pleasant Hill 3, Santiam Christian 0 – Santiam Christian was beaten soundly in Game 1 of its morning quarterfinal versus Cascade Christian but responded to win. After a similar start to the semifinal versus second-seeded Pleasant Hill, the Eagles had no answer. The Billies raced to a 4-0 lead to start Game 2 and never looked back, sweeping to the finals in their first state tournament appearance in 28 years. Two freshmen, OH Anna Crawford and RS Sari Strinz, were among the standouts for Pleasant Hill, which has just two seniors on its roster. Senior OH Teagan Wilson was exceptional in the loss for Santiam Christian.

Sisters 3, Valley Catholic 2Gracie Vohs had four kills and a solo stuff block, Gracelyn Myhre had three kills and a solo stuff block and the Outlaws served three aces, all in the fifth set, to help the No. 1 seeds rally from the brink of elimination to reach the championship match. Sisters was down two sets and 24-22 in the third before benefiting from controversy that helped spur a ferocious rally. Vohs was the heroine to end that third set, delivered kills at 25-all and one point later to send the match to a fourth set, and Valley Catholic, the 2022 state champions, could never regain the momentum.

2A Quarterfinals

Western Christian 3, Santiam 0

Salem Academy 3, Grant Union 0 – Emma Brewer had 22 kills and Perri Showalter contributed three aces for the Crusaders, who were a “well-oiled machine – clean and mentally tough” according to coach Melissa Holman.

Oakridge 3, Lowell 2 -- This was a battle royale, with the scores as follows: 25-23, 25-27, 19-25, 25-21, 15-13. Lowell fought gamely despite losing senior Vicki Skordahl to a broken ankle in the second set.

Portland Christian 3, Gaston 0

2A Semifinals

Salem Academy 3, Western Christian 0 -- Salem Academy defeated top-seeded Western Christian for the third time this season in four meetings to earn the right to defend its title. Sophomore OH Emma Brewer was brilliant in this one, notching 31 kills while hitting .551. Haley Krieger contributed 30 assists for the victors, who also got terrific serving from Sydnie Reed, who recorded three aces and 20 points from behind the service line.

Portland Christian 3, Oakridge 0 -The Royals' played great back row defense and exhibited big power at the net in rolling past both their quarterfinal and semifinal opponents.

1A Quarterfinals

Crane 3, Adrian 0

Umpqua Valley Christian 3, Joseph 1– Cousins Zoey Pappas and Amy Pappas combined for 35 kills, 41 assists and 18 digs in UVC’s win.

St. Paul 3, Trinity Lutheran 0 -- Meredith Coleman and Audra Rose had 13 kills apiece for the Buckaroos in the sweep. Rose also had five aces. Gracie Koch assisted 30 times and Isla Haven had 20 digs for the victors.

Powder Valley 3, Crosshill Christian 0 -- Sophomores Ellie Bartel and Ryland Minncik had eight kills each for Crosshill Christian, but it was not enough to prevent Powder Valley's advance.

1A Semifinals

Crane 3, Umpqua Valley Christian 1 -- Kortney Doman had 28 kills and Kendall Nichols had 28 assists and 13 digs for Crane, which dropped set three to touch UVC before prevailing.

St. Paul 3, Powder Valley 1 -- The Bucks went up two sets to zero before Powder Valley rallied to make the match interesting. Les Hiller's team re-focused to win in four, behind Audra Rose's 20 kills and 13 more from Meredith Coleman. Gracie Kocj had 37 assists.

Andre Panse contributed to this report.