Kathryn Scholl (14) celebrates the match of her life for 3A state champion Sisters
Kathryn Scholl (14) celebrates the match of her life for 3A state champion Sisters

SPRINGFIELD: Sisters captured its first state title since 2017 on Saturday, downing Mountain Valley Conference foe Pleasant Hill at the 2023 OSAA /OnPoint Community Credit Union State Volleyball Championships conducted at Springfield High School in Springfield.

Like the mountains it was named after, Sisters reached the top of the mountain by downing the Billies for the third time in as many opportunities this season, each match being decided in four sets.

Sisters, which was favored last year before being stunned in the semifinals by Valley Catholic, was able to rally past Valley Catholic in a tight five-set semi on Friday before taking home the title with a supreme effort in the championship match. 

“After being pushed to the brink last night we knew we were ready and could do it,” Rush said after the match.

“It feels really good for the six seniors to end on this,” added senior middle Bailey Robertson. “It’s been a big motivating factor for us we haven’t won since 2017. We wanted our names on the wall.”

The key to victory was offensive balance. Whereas Pleasant Hill had only one consistent go-to hitter in this match, junior Cheyenne Green, Sisters spread the ball around between four potent threats. The quartet combined for 56 kills between them, with three hitting .354 or higher for the match. The Outlaws used their size and power in the middle, courtesy of Robertson and Kathryn Scholl, to exploit Pleasant Hill’s smaller block again and again and again.

“We knew they’d be expecting us to go to the outside,” Rush said. “We really wanted to focus on the middle to pull that block away to open up the outsides. We have such strong hitters in the middle that we really wanted to execute tonight to make sure they were a part of it. We were not going to run something fancy. Just basic, intense volleyball. High ball set to the outside, high ball to the middle. Come and get us.”

The first set was the kind of well-played, edge-of-your-set volleyball that makes people lifelong fans of the sport. Both teams were selling out for every point, swinging hard, working to get touches at the net and playing with unyielding desire on defense. Pleasant Hill freshman Sari Strinz had ELEVEN digs in the set!!! Teammates Claire Crawford and Anna Crawford had seven apiece. The Billies’ defense was insane and helped Pleasant Hill hang in against Sisters’ strong attack, which was orchestrated by junior setter Holly Davis. Davis had eight assists in the set and was part of an Outlaw defense that matched Pleasant Hill dig for dig.

Pleasant Hill opened the match with an ace from libero Emily Krauss and a dig from Claire Crawford that dropped on Sisters’ side for a kill. Sisters responded with a 5-0 run that included an overpass Robertson kill sandwiched between two Robertson blocks. A 3-0 Pleasant Hill run followed, highlighted by two kills from junior middle Ruby Jackson, the kind of back and forth nonstop action that was to continue for most of the contest.

Trailing 13-12 after the fifth lead change of the set, Sisters surged ahead on the strength of a 6-1 run, aided by three kills from senior OH Gracelyn Myhre, to give the Outlaws a four-point lead, the biggest by either team to that point. Pleasant Hill did not capitulate, and got brilliant play from Claire Crawford, Green, Krauss and Strinz to work back into the set. The Billies finally caught Sisters at 23-all on Jackson’s block and forced Rush into a time out.

The play stoppage did not ice Krauss, whose dipping serve fell in front of the back row for an ace. She served another almost as good on set point. This one was handled, but it wasn’t perfect and Sisters hit the ball into the net awkwardly trying to get it over, ceding the set to the Billies, 25-23.

Sisters did not flinch after the sudden end to the first set. In the huddle, the team was unified in its mindset.

“We said, ‘No more,’” Rush explained. “’This is ours.’”

For the next three sets, Sisters lived that credo. Scholl, a junior, had the match of her life in the middle, but she was hardly the only Outlaw to shine. Libero Mia Monaghan and defensive specialist Jordyn Monaghan were beasts in the back row along with superstar hitter Gracie Vohs, who also was a stalwart defender in center back. Davis orchestrated the offense to perfection, finding the hot hand time and again. Success begat success all the way to the end.

In Game 2, the spotlight shined brightest on Scholl, who had four kills and the game-ending block. The physical 6-0 junior was especially potent on a sequence midway through the set, where she pounded a high ball set into the right seam on one swing and into the left seam on the next.

“When you see it and it’s open it feels so good,” said Scholl, who gave Davis credit for seeing the openings with her.

“They were hitting over us or we showed too soon and they hit in the opposite direction away from us,” said Pleasant Hill coach Jessica Crawford.

Scholl’s impact was felt at the start of Game 3 as well, as she scored on three kills as part of a 6-0 opening run.

“I wanted to go all out for me team,” she said. “I’m thinking, ‘It has to be this match.’ We wanted to win it for the seniors.”

While Sisters was relentless offensively, Pleasant Hill’s offense, which benefited in the first set by seven kills from Green, the Oregon State pledge; could not keep up. The Billies continued to D it up and Claire Crawford was sensational in all phases, including finding openings for her offense, but if Green wasn’t scoring no one else really was, either.

“We did not have balance today,” said Coach Crawford. “It’s not where we have been most of the season.”

Green had 25 kills for Pleasant Hill, but the other pins combined for only six. By contrast, Sisters had four hitters record 11 or more kills, including Robertson, who had 11 kills on 24 swings plus five blocks. After each, she would turn to her teammates, put her hands up and shrug.

Robertson said the gesture means, "Hey, this is what we’re doing! We’re putting our hard work into play right now. We got this.”

The star of stars for Sisters was Vohs. During the Star Spangled Banner before the match, the Saint Mary’s recruit stood with her eyes closed, taking the time to lock in and focus on the game to come.

“I was calming my nerves,” she said. “We can do this. We are winning this. Leaving everything on the court. We are not playing not to lose, but playing to win.”

Vohs finished the match with 20 kills and 18 digs and was a constant threat. The senior outside hitter had five kills and two aces in the fourth set, when Sisters put the match away.

Vohs’ final kill, a strike from the back row, gave Sisters six match points. Robertson’s roll shot followed, clinching the crown.

“Our kids battled,” Coach Crawford said of her Pleasant Hill team. “They played hard. It’s been a great atmosphere and experience. I’m grateful that we had the opportunity. That’s a tough team. Kudos to them.”

Crawford said that the team, which started all underclassmen, didn’t talk much about next year, “because they wanted it to be now.” They will be thinking about it “sooner rather than later,” she added. “They’re eager. They will be coming for it next year.”

Sisters’ time WAS now. After almost being eliminated in the semifinals again by Valley Catholic before staging a furious rally, the favored Outlaws were determined to take what they believed was rightfully theirs.

“Teams I’ve been on in the past would never have come back from that,” said Vohs. “It was physically and emotionally the hardest match I’ve ever had to play. Going into today, we just had the mindset that we could do it.”

Do it they did.

In the 3A third/fifth match…

Valley Catholic 3, Santiam Christian 0 – The Valiants recovered from last night’s stunning loss to Sisters in five sets by sweeping the Eagles. The formula was familiar: tons of ace serves and a joy-filled style that other teams simply struggle to match.

Valley Catholic is a consummate team, one whose individual talent isn’t nearly as good as the sum of its parts. The Valiants “play happy,” which makes them more impervious to state tournament pressure than other teams. And they get contributions from everyone. There are only two seniors on this roster. They will be back.

One of those seniors, three-rotation setter Katiya Arellano, helped ensure that Valley Catholic would win in three sets. Santiam Christian surged midway through the third set to get within 11-10. A kill from freshman middle Maeve Albert brought Arellano in to serve and she served 10 straight, with at least two aces (and the carousel-style team celebration that followed), to put the game out of reach. Santiam Christian’s big guns, senior Teagan Wilson and junior Joya Euhus, contributed late with a kill from Wilson and two aces from Euhus, to make the score more respectable, but not enough to put any stress on the Valiants.

Santiam Christian, by the way, also is young, with just three seniors on varsity. Wilson, a 6-0 Santa Clara beach volleyball recruit, will be sorely missed, but Kelli Fitzpatrick’s team will build around Euhus, one of the best hitters in the state; as well as talented freshman middle Allison Curtis and junior libero Lucie Vigil.

In the 3A consolation match…

Cascade Christian 3, Burns 1 – Burns recovered from a Game 1 thrashing to square the match at a set apiece thanks to terrific setting from senior Ashley Wright, who also looked for her offense at opportune times. Danye Runnels served an ace on set point to get the match back to even, but Cascade Christian, getting nice work from senior setter Molly Griffin and senior pins Maddie Todd and Maddi Carter, started quickly in Game 3 and never relented. Well-coached by Rob Kleker, the Challengers ended the match on a Griffin set to MB Claire Knips, two of the five seniors on the roster.

Burns, which finished second a year ago, might have presented more of a threat had All-State OH Mackenzie King, who stands 6-1, not been lost to a knee injury, several weeks ago. The Hilanders got a spirited effort on the left from 5-4 sophomore Jocelyn Graham. Wright and freshman libero Bailey Temple were good as well.

It should be noted that this year produces the odd result, because of OSAA’s designation of placement for consolation matches, that the consolation winner, Cascade Christian, takes home the fourth-place trophy, while the team it lost to in the quarterfinals, Santiam Christian, finishes fifth.