Monday, November 14, 2011/lk
Prior to last year, the Hood River Valley volleyball team had gone 17 years without a state playoff appearance.
This year's group of seniors had not even been born yet. Now they leave the team having made back-to-back trips to the state tournament.
To get there the Eagles got their quickest win of the season by knocking off Wilsonville in three games.
Their reward for their first three-game sweep this season is the longest trip of any team in the first round of the 5A state playoffs as they make the seven-hour trip to Coos Bay to take on the Marshfield Pirates.
Marshfield is the state's No. 2-ranked team and lost only one game during match play, a 3-2 defeat to No. 8-ranked Marist on Sept. 27. The Pirates ran away with the Midwest league title and their last six match play contests have all ended in three-game sweeps, including a win over Crescent Valley in their play-in match.
The Eagles, though, are not short on confidence. They got the "We're just happy to be here" match out of the way last year in a first-round loss to Churchill of Eugene.
This year they held a Friday morning practice and then left Friday afternoon to get to Coos Bay, where they will have plenty of time to recuperate before playing tonight at 6:45 p.m.
"It's going to be good team bonding," senior hitter Katie Smith said.
Against Wilsonville the Eagles bounced back from a slow start but rallied from a 10-3 deficit early to win the match 25-20.
The Eagles pulled even with the Wildcats at 19-19, and then took control with four straight points featuring kills by Kaili Duffy and Meagan Frazier and an ace by Tracy Mok.
In the second game the Eagles got off to a fast start and went up 11-6.
This time it was Wilsonville's turn to rally as the Wildcats quickly closed the gap and teams began trading one-point leads.
Wilsonville tied the game at 23-23 on a kill by Shellie Paterson. Wilsonville could not push their momentum any further, though, as Duffy then came up a kill to give the Eagles the lead and then put another ball over which was returned into the next for a 25-23 HRV win.
The narrow loss in the second game sapped all the fight out of the Wildcats and the Eagles ran off six points before they got on the board in the third game and the Eagles dominated the final game with a 25-10 score.
Last year when the Eagles knocked off St. Helens for their first state trip in nearly two decades, there was much celebrating.
This year, the Eagles figured they did what was expected of them and what they expected of themselves.
"We are proud," middle blocker Logan Bailey said of the legacy the group of seniors leaves behind. "Most of us have been playing together since middle school."
HRV coach Scott Walker saw significant room for improvement; even with his team getting its first three-set win of the year.
"The girls played pretty well," he said. "We did not pass that great but our defense gave us a lot of opportunities."
The Eagles' passing struggles contributed to the slow start in game 1 and slow finish in game 2, but the Eagles are not worried about how they will play against Marshfield.
"I'm excited to be playing a good team," libero Shelby Carter said. "We played really well against Hermiston and we will play up to their level."
In the four years since the core group of this year's seniors arrived at HRV they have seen the team go from 2-16 and a last-place finish in the Mt. Hood Conference, to second place in the CRC and a pair of state playoff spots.
But now, whether it is Saturday or through a David vs. Goliath run to the state finals tournament next weekend at Liberty High School in Hillsboro, their time as Eagle volleyball players is coming to an end.
Said senior hitter Courtney Harvey: "It's been fun while it's lasted."