Spikers sixth after win over La Grande, loss to Astoria

Scott Swanson

They finished sixth in the state, but the Husky volleyball players really wanted more.

Sweet Home’s volleyball team fulfilled its own expectations – and those of many others – over the weekend as it played in its first state championship finals tournament in 15 years.

The Huskies, though clearly excited to be in the finals, said they were disappointed that they finished sixth, losing to eventual runner-up Hidden Valley 3-0 in their quarterfinal match Friday, then beating La Grande in a marathon four-game match Saturday morning before falling to Astoria 3-0 in the consolation finals with the fourth-place trophy on the line.

Crook County, in its second year in the 4A division, repeated as champion with a 25-22, 25-14, 25-22 win over the Mustangs Saturday night,

“Finally getting here was what we worked for so long,” said Devyn Makin, one of eight seniors on the team, all of whom have played together since seventh grade. “It’s sad that it’s finally over. We’ve been together a long time.”

Sweet Home finished the season 18-7 after placing second in the Sky-Em conference. Sky-Em champion Sisters finished fifth, losing 25-22, 22-25, 25-18, 21-25, 15-5 to Banks in the third-place match after losing to Hidden Valley in the semifinals.

“There were some great games here,” said second-year Coach Alicia Meier. “This is really a special team.”

Astoria 3, Sweet Home 0

Astoria entered the consolation final with a 21-4 record, the Fishermen’s only regular-season losses coming to eventual third-place winner Banks twice and 3A four-place winner Santiam Christian before falling to Sisters in the quarterfinals Friday.

Sweet Home lost a close first game, 27-25, then was unable to maintain the pace, losing the next two 25-17, 25-18.

Astoria’s height and athleticism proved a big challenge for the Huskies, who trailed 11-7 before Meier called time-out and they started to fight their way back into the game. They tied the score at 17-17, and then the score was tied at step up till 24-all, when an official called Brandi Trewin for palming as she received an Astoria serve and the Fishermen pulled away, 27-25.

Sweet Home struggled with its ball handling and positioning in games 2 and 3, allowing Astoria to get out to 7-1 leads in both and then scoring in fits and starts, not enough to keep up with the Fishermen.

“We knew Astoria was a tough team,” Makin said. “It was hard. We had ups and downs and we didn’t pull through. The season had to end on that (for one team) and it happened to be us.”

Setter Tiffany Miller said the Fishermen were a step up in competition from the regular season.

“They were a lot quicker than other teams we’ve played,” she said. “They were more consistent hitters. It was just kind of exhausting. Once the adrenaline is gone, it hits you.”

Meier and her players said the “consistency” that has been a problem all season continued to haunt them.

“One minute we’re up, then something happens and we go down.” Trewin said. “If we’d started strong, we would have had them. The ability is there. What we lacked was we weren’t doing it mentally.”

The Huskies get some love from the bench after beating La Grande in the consolation semifinals of the 4A state volleyball tournament.

Sweet Home 3, LaGrande 2

Sweet Home won its consolation semifinal match against the Tigers but it didn’t come without a fight – 25-19, 23-25, 25-12, 31-29.

After the Huskies won Game 1 rather handily, 25-19, as La Grande never really got into gear, the Tigers responded to a challenge from their coach and came out roaring in the second game, running out to a 12-4 lead, thanks to positioning and ball handling problems by Sweet Home. But then the Huskies started battling and closed the gap to 20-16, prompting La Grande to call a time out, which didn’t help because Sweet Home tied the score at 23-all before the Tigers blocked a shot by Annie Whitfield and put the game away, 25-23.

La Grande appeared to run out of gas at that point and the Huskies rolled out to a 13-6 lead in the third game, from which the Tigers never recovered, particularly as Annie Whitfield caught fire and went on a scoring spree, then putting the game away with two monster serves.

“I felt really confident,” she said. “I knew it was going to be one of our last games and I figured I’d give it everything I had and then some.”

The Huskies opened Game 4 with a 7-2 lead before La Grande bounced back, tying things up at 15-all, thanks partially to some inconsistent play from Sweet Home after Miller had to leave the game, temporarily, with an injury. She later returned, after backup setter Danielle Landucci filled in for approximately a third of the game.

“Tiffany really did a good job of being a positive leader,” Meier said. “I feel that the center position takes so much responsibility – staying calm and keeping your emotions stable. She did that out there.”

The score stayed tight all the way to 29-all, as neither team would give up. A net ball for the Tigers and an ace from Miller sealed the win for Sweet Home.

“That was an amazing game,” Trewin said. “It was very intense, very nerve-wracking, but there was some good volleyball. “

Hidden Valley 3, Sweet Home 0

The Huskies played competitively with the Mustangs in the first game, losing 25-23, but Hidden Valley’s experience paid off in the second and third games as they targeted Sweet Home’s back row and kept the Huskies off balance through the remainder of the match, winning those games 25-5, 25-12. Sophomore Amanda Hubbard took one shot in the head, suffering a mild concussion.

Makin said the Hidden Valley game “opened our eyes.”

“It showed us what real competition is,” she said. “This was a level of competitiveness we haven’t experienced. There are so many teams that want to win so bad, they’re doing anything possible to get it. We realized we have to do everything possible to win.”

Miller said she and her teammates take satisfaction in the fact that they made the tournament, though she was “hoping for the best.”

“I’m proud of the comeback from what we were years back, but I felt we could be more consistent. We’ve had ups and downs all season long. We can compete with Sisters and they’re pretty good. We won earlier today.”

Makin agreed.

“It showed us what we are capable of,” she said.

Meier said the team has made big progress from where it was – ranked “in the 40s a few years ago.”

“These girls have accomplished a lot,” she said. “It was a good move they made from last year to this year. It is pretty fun to see them play together, to play with confidence and to keep up with these teams.”