Crane's players celebrate a point during Friday's semifinal win over Umpqua Valley Christian (Andre Panse)
Crane's players celebrate a point during Friday's semifinal win over Umpqua Valley Christian (Andre Panse)

Top-seeded Crane (33-2) got a whopping 37 kills from senior Kortney Doman, including the final two in an overscore fourth set, to lead the Mustangs past St. Paul, 3-1, on Saturday evening for their first-ever 1A state title at the 2023 OSAA /OnPoint Community Credit Union State Volleyball Championships conducted at Ridgeview High School in Redmond.

“These girls bought in from Day 1 to what it would take to have the opportunity to get to the championship match and battle for the title, because THEY wanted it,” said Maddye Wester, Crane’s second-year coach.

Doman, who was second in the state in kills during the regular season, got her first kill early in Game 1 to give the Mustangs a 2-1 lead. She added nine more in the set, which had seven lead changes until a 4-0 run midway through, sparked by back-to-back aces from Taya Nelson, put Crane in front for good up 16-13. Another run, this one five points and aided by two Doman kills and two Doman aces, extended the lead to 21-14 in a 25-22 win, capped by an ace from Elaia Idoeta, Crane’s sixth ace of the set.

Wester said that her team struggled to pick up St. Paul’s tips early in the match, but that was balanced by consistent success behind the service line.

“We served tough, earned a lot of aces, and got St. Paul out of system frequently,” she explained.

St. Paul rallied from behind to win Game 2 to knot the match. The Buckaroos trailed, 18-13, before wresting the lead from Crane on the strength of a 7-0 run that featured four kills from junior Audra Rose. Two more kills late in the set from Rose, who finished with eight; and two aces from Isla Haven completed the 25-21 win.

Crane, which is located in the southeastern part of the state, near Burns, rebounded from the Game 2 loss to lead Game 3 from start to finish. Doman had nine kills in the set but the tone for Crane’s 25-12 win was set early when freshman middle Kaitlyn Siegner served three aces in a row to stake the Mustangs to a 5-1 lead. St. Paul got no closer than two points the rest of the way. Crane finished with a flourish, as two Doman kills and two Nelson aces capped a 4-0 run to end it.

“It took us some time to read Kortney’s hitting,” St. Paul coach Les Hiller admitted. “She gets up so high but also her arm speed and hit direction are incredible.”

The fourth and final set was closely contested and featured five lead changes. Crane took control early, as an Ava Bowen ace put an exclamation point on the Mustangs’ 9-4 start. Crane’s lead remained five until St. Paul scored six straight, including kills from Rose and Amelia Cavazos, to go in front, 12-11. Crane responded with two straight, including another Siegner ace, to re-take the lead at 13-12, only to see Rose cap a 3-0 Buckaroo blitz to go back in front, 15-13.

Doman took over from there, slamming home four kills and delivering an ace as part of a 6-1 run that felt like it would be the difference. But St. Paul was resilient and fought back to catch Crane at 23-23 on a kill from Gracie Koch and her combo block with Rose.

After Siegner put Crane back in front with a kill, a Mustang service error sent the set to extra points. That set the stage for Doman to punctuate her monster match by going back-to-back to ignite Crane’s celebration.

“Kortney Doman can terminate a ball out of anything and was UNSTOPPABLE,” Wester said. “She has incredible court vision, she is super athletic, and competitive. She definitely was a huge part in leading our team to victory on Saturday.”

“By Set 4 we were for sure playing with them, showing heart and grit, especially from strong digs by seniors Meredith Coleman and our libero, Isla Haven,” Hiller said. “We also had very quick reaction setting by senior Gracie Koch, but Kortney owned the last two points.”

“The team was extremely prepared mentally and physically for this match,” said Wester. “We knew that playing St. Paul would be a battle. We passed well overall and remained aggressive offensively throughout the match. I think the greatest part of our performance was our mental game. The girls had consistent energy and full pursuit. You could see the team quickly move forward, together, from mistakes. They maintained composure, and demonstrated teamwork.”

In addition to 37 kills, Doman finished the match with four aces, six digs, two blocks and 25 receptions, passing at a 2.6 rating out of 3. Siegner had six kills, five blocks and five aces, for Crane, which had a 17-7 ace advantage. Setter Kendal Nichols had 46 assists and contributed eight digs. Idoeta had a team-high 10 digs to go along with three kills.

“I think their wonderful sense of teamwork got them to the title alongside their mental game,” Wester said. “They knew and had practiced all season about what it truly means to play for your team. They bought into the fact that it's never about yourself as a player, no matter how good you are; it's about your team and, when you play for each other, not only is it more fun, you can accomplish way more.”

Wester also lauded Crane’s middle school feeder program and all of the wonderful coaches surrounding her.

“It's truly a team effort at Crane in all that we do, and I truly feel lucky and grateful to be a part of all of this,” she said. 

Rose finished with 18 kills, five digs and four blocks in the loss for St. Paul (26-11). Coleman had 15 kills and nine digs. No other Buckaroo had more than one kill. Koch had 30 assists and four digs. Haven contributed a match-high 13 digs and four aces and was shown great respect by Crane in the way they avoided hitting in her direction.

One player who didn’t show up in the box score for St. Paul was senior OH Stella Koch. Last year’s team VP was lost for the season due to a knee injury before it even began, but contributed her eyes, ears and volleyball IQ to help the Bucks get as far as they did.

“She rose up and asked, ‘What can I do for you?’" Hiller said. “Not many players would have been as involved as she was with her team. I believe she was an asset to our team and our success this season.”