FOREST GROVE – Up until Saturday night, Sheldon was just another name on a long list of Jesuit’s victims this season.
The Irish had taken their crack at Jesuit in three tournaments, but like all of the other teams, had nothing to show for it against the unbeaten Crusaders.
That all changed Saturday night in the final of the OSAA/OnPoint Community Credit Union 6A volleyball final at Forest Grove High School. Third-seeded Sheldon started slow but roared back to beat No. 1 Jesuit 23-25, 25-20, 25-21, 25-15, adding an exclamation point to the program’s first state championship.
“Going into this match, we came in with a team mentality, and we decided that this is the end,” Sheldon senior Gwen Fife said. “Tonight was amazing. We beat the unbeatable. And we peaked at the perfect time.”
The Irish (29-5) had dropped all six sets against Jesuit (33-1) this season, including a 25-11, 25-12 defeat in the last meeting Oct. 8. But they looked unfazed by the moment Saturday, even after a setback in the first set.
“There was a lot of energy with us today,” Sheldon coach Martine Wodke said. “I think talking about what this is going to be was really important – what it was going to look like and feel like – so they felt prepared for it. We talked about our game plan and we just stayed aggressive. It was so fun to watch.”
Senior Kait Wood and Fife had 18 and 17 kills, respectively, to lead Sheldon. Senior Beaux Bruegman had 11 kills and 36 assists and junior Jordan McKibben added 10 kills and 11 digs.
Wood said she could feel the momentum shift after Sheldon took the second set.
“We had that high,” Wood said. “Jesuit’s a steady team, which is something we’ve noticed every time we’ve played them this season. So we kind of mimicked that and kept a steady flow. I think that’s what shifted the momentum in our favor, and we carried that through the rest of the match.”
The Irish weren’t going to let their previous losses to the Crusaders affect them.
“This is the end for us, so we decided that we were going to play for each other and we’re going to commit,” Fife said. “Our motto has been relentless pursuit, and that’s exactly what we brought tonight.”
Jesuit was bidding for its eighth championship and third in the last four postseasons. The Crusaders also could have been the first undefeated 6A champion since they went 32-0 in 2015.
But after a solid start, Jesuit was out of synch, and unable to withstand the steady barrage coming from the other side of the net. Coach Teresa Zimmerlee, whose team survived two five-set thrillers on Friday, attributed much of Jesuit’s struggles to a breakdown in serve-receive.
“In that first game, we passed pretty well, and the hitters were able to put the ball down,” Zimmerlee said. “And then we had a breakdown in serve-receive, and then we had a breakdown in hitting. I thought we were a little out of sorts yesterday, also, so I don’t know.”
Sheldon left the Crusaders little room for error.
“They played tough,” Zimmerlee said of the Irish. “They didn’t make many mistakes.”
Senior CeAnna O’Loughlin led Jesuit with 18 kills and 11 digs. Senior Isabel Patterson had 13 kills and sophomore Jackie Carle added 38 assists.
It was a disappointing finish to a spectacular season.
“We’re just so proud of all the accomplishments we had all season,” senior Avery Pickard said. “I was telling everyone in the huddle, ‘Don’t let this moment ruin the entire season.’ We weren’t able to pull it out, but we win as a team and we lose as a team.”
Sheldon’s confidence grew as the match progressed. By the fourth set, the Irish were working in precision, breaking from a 6-6 to tie lead 19-11.
“Jesuit blew us away in all those times we played them before, so we truly came together today and played the best game of our lives,” Fife said.
How were they able to turn the tables on the Crusaders?
“I think that watching film against the was really successful,” Fife said. “We were able to pick out their weaknesses just from yesterday’s match. Just coming together, and running faster routes, really helped us succeed.”
Wood reflected on the team’s progress during her career.
“I came to this tournament my freshman year, and we were out in the first round,” Wood said. “Just seeing how far the team has come since then, and since the beginning of the season, it’s crazy. We gave it our all and we worked for it and we earned it.”
Added Wodke: “This was their goal. Their goal was to be here.”