TILLAMOOK -- Two-time reigning 4A champion Valley Catholic, playing without two of its impact performers, rallied from behind Tuesday night to defeat host Tillamook, 25-21, 26-28, 24-26, 25-21, 15-8, to complete an undefeated run through the Cowapa League.
“This was huge for us because we haven’t been challenged in league,” said Valley Catholic coach Becky Kemper. “We hadn’t dropped a set before tonight. To see these guys respond in a five-set tough match without two of our leaders is huge. I’m really, really proud of them.”
The Valiants (16-4) played without their superstar junior OH Naima Foster, who was lost for the season in September due to an ankle injury; and found out on game day that their libero turned outside hitter, Kylee King, also was unavailable because of an ailing knee. The team played with lefty Abby Berndt on the right side, inserted another lefty, freshman Addie Emerson, into the starting lineup, and figured out a way, coming up with clutch serving, strong ball control and just enough offense to leave the coast with a win.
“We came in thinking, ‘Let’s just compete,’” Kemper explained. “Tillamook is a rival and this gym is always tough to play in because the crowd’s tough. We were down two players – both captains and leaders. Our serve had to be huge we had to be able to pass the ball.”
Tillamook (13-6) came into the match with the chance to tie Valley Catholic atop the league standings, but the odds were stacked against the Lady Mooks. LaVonne Stein-Rawe’s team hadn’t defeated the Valiants in several years, and was blown out in two of the three sets played earlier this fall. And yet, it was Tillamook that led two sets to one after three sets and bolted to a 4-0 lead to start the fourth.
“We prepared very well for this match,” Stein-Rawe said. “Our defense worked their butts off today.”
Stein-Rawe said that the loss on the scoreboard was, in fact, a win for her program.
“Getting a set off of that team is a victory for us,” she explained. “Heck getting a point off of them is a victory for us. Becky has an amazing team very year. I love playing a team that makes us better and they do it every single time.”
The match turned on two serving runs by freshman middle Jojo Christiansen. Valley Catholic recovered from the early Game 4 deficit to draw even at 5-5, but trailed again, 18-16, just seven points from defeat, when Christiansen stepped behind the line after a Valiant side out. She immediately served an ace to tie, as the ball died in front of the Tillamook back row, then capped a 6-0 run with another ace. Tillamook got within 22-20 on a block from middle Kate Klobas, one of five sophomore contributors; but kills from OHs Fran Eisenhardt and Berndt sandwiched a Shreya Naidu tip and helped send the match to a deciding Game 5.
In the final set, Tillamook’s fast start, sparked by tough serving from setter Dannika Goss, gave way to a spate of errors on both sides that saw the teams knotted at five apiece. With every point crucial in the sprint to 15, Berndt’s quality swing off of a nice inside set from Katiya Blas-Arellano would prove to be the biggest. That’s because the side out sent Christiansen back to serve once more. This time, the serving run was seven points and included four aces! When she was done, Valley Catholic was in command, leading 13-5, the eight-point margin matching the largest of the night for either team.
OH Taylor Haltiner had some late-game magic for Tillamook, with a kill and ace, but it wasn’t nearly enough to have the Lady Mooks thinking comeback. Another block from the 6-2 Naidu and a Tillamook hitting error completed the come-from-behind win for Valley Catholic.
Kemper said that the win will do wonders for the team’s confidence. The injuries have shaken the team’s faith but, going forward into the playoffs, Kemper wants her players to know that the team remains fourth-ranked in 4A and “We’re still in this if we play our game.”
Valley Catholic was playing its serve and pass game to perfection to start the match. Sophia Rewers, a junior who took over the libero position when King moved to the outside, opened the match for the Valiants with four straight aces. A kill from Eisenhardt, the squad’s most versatile and dynamic player, helped extend the lead to 6-1.
Tillamook survived the early salvo thanks in large part to the play of its middles, Klobas and senior Makayla Tuiolemotu, the only player on the team with meaningful varsity experience before the season. Klobas had five kills in a 15-point stretch that saw the Lady Mooks go on top, 18-16, and both players used their size on the block to intimidate Valley Catholic’s much smaller hitters into errors from trying to be too precise.
Tillamook actually led 19-16 in the first, after Emily Skaar’s kill followed Klobas’ hat trick, but the Lady Mooks’ passing broke down under the pressure of Eisenhardt’s serve. A 5-0 Valiant run helped Valley Catholic poke ahead by two. Eisenhardt, Emerson and Berndt each had kills late in the 25-21 win.
An 8-0 run, sparked by Eisenhardt’s serve once more, gave Valley Catholic a 10-2 lead early in the second set. It should have been the death blow to Tillamook, but the Cheesemakers did not capitulate. Tremendous back row work from libero Maritza Nieves, the offense of Klobas and a long serving run from senior Chloe Rieger helped the Lady Mooks rally to within 18-15. A well-placed dump from Bias-Arellano helped Valley Catholic relax only a bit, because Tillamook was still charging. When Skaar and Tuiolemotu got together on the block, the Lady Mooks had finally caught all the way back up, 19-19.
Emerson, one of three freshmen making big contributions for Valley Catholic (Christiansen and serving specialist Peyton Rogers were the others), delivered a scoring tip and a solo stuff as part of 3-0 run that put the Valiants on the verge of a 2-0 set lead. But Tillamook would have none of it. A nice swing from Annika Norberg got the Cheesemakers going again and not even three set points against could stop them. Klobas’ block knotted the set at 24-24 and sent it to extras.
Klobas delivered a kill on the next point to give the Lady Mooks a chance to win, but a swing for the set with no block up on the ensuing point flew wide. Naidu then came up with a massive stuff block to, again, put Valley Catholic within one of the set. Tillamook bowed its neck and showed its determination once more, tying the set on Rieger’s roll shot, then winning on successive aces from Goss.
Another quick start from Valley Catholic, fueled by the serving and passing of Rewers, gave way to a back and forth third set. The Valiants led by as many as three several times, including at 17-14 following another Christiansen ace, but a slew of errors gave Tillamook control up 22-18. Valley Catholic rallied to within 22-21 on a Naidu block, but Klobas’ massive swing extended Tillamook’s lead to two. Down two set points, Valley Catholic rallied behind the setting and defense of Blas-Arellano and kills from Eisenhardt and Emerson. Tillamook would not be denied, however. When Tuiolemotu found the corner with a first-contact swing that caught Valley Catholic by surprise, Tillamook was up two sets to one and able to imagine pulling the upset.
It was not to be for the Lady Mooks, however, as Valley Catholic served notice that it was the best in the Cowapa League as well as the best on this night by rallying from behind in Game 4 and using that long run in Game 5 to close out the match, a match that could as easily have gone the other way.
“We were so close!” exclaimed Stein-Rawe. “Inexperience hurt us but I’m very pleased with the outcome.”