The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

State playoffs: JC up next for spikers after win over N. Marion


October 31, 2018

SHELBEY NICHOL goes airborne against North Marion as Savannah Hutchins watches.

The Huskies marked their 10th win in a row, beating North Marion in three games, 25-19, 25-12 and 25-17, at home Saturday in the first round of state volleyball playoffs.

They move to the quarterfinals to face ninth-ranked Junction City at 3:15 p.m. Friday at Forest Grove High School. The winner moves to the semi-finals.

The Huskies went undefeated to win their first league championship in 20 years and bypass the play-in round.

"Obviously, being league champion was very exciting," said Coach Mary Hutchins. The team's goal was to finish league in first or second place. Going undefeated and finishing first, "we exceeded that goal."

In a league where two teams are ranked in the top five, with Sisters ranked fifth and Sweet Home ranked second, "to finish undefeated is pretty big deal for us," Hutchins said. This will be the first time the team has reached the final eight since 2012.

"Honestly, at the beginning of the season, I had no idea we would," said senior Sunhee Bitter, the team captain. "When we beat Sisters the first time, I had a feeling we would win league."

Her team beat Sisters in a best-of-three tournament to start the season, but winning the best-of-five league games "was more solidifying."

The Huskies lost just two games overall this season, both of them three-game matches at tournaments, one to Kennedy and one to Sisters, which they beat in both regular league games this season.

North Marion "was very competent," Hutchins said. "They're excellent players. Coming in, we knew North Marion was very tall. They're the tallest in the 4A."

North Marion split a pair of games with Sweet Home in pool play at a tournament earlier in the season.

The Huskies prepared specifically for North Marion, Hutchins said. She attended a tournament at Seaside to observe likely opponents, and North Marion was among those teams.

She looked at North Marion's defense and the systems they were running, she said, figuring out who makes the plays and their habits. Then they practiced for it.

"I was nervous a little at the beginning," Bitter said. As captain, it was her job to help calm her teammates down and build their confidence. "We talked a lot before the game. We told them to trust themselves and trust the team."

"I feel like we executed very well during the game, and we stuck to our game plan," Hutchins said.

Game One started out evenly for about a half dozen points. The Huskies pulled away to a 17-9 lead, but North Marion fought back and got within two points, 17-15.

"They went on a bit of a serving run," Hutchins said. "That's when I feel like our nerves got the best of us."

"We were stuck in one serve-receive," Bitter said.

Hutchins called a timeout to refocus her team and "get out of it."

The Huskies finally got a pass and then got the serve back, Bitter said.

The teams exchanged points, with Sweet Home leading 18-16, before the Huskies went on a 7-3 run to win the game 25-19.

In game two, Sweet Home quickly pulled away to lead 10-4 and then 20-10 before putting away North Marion 25-12.

The Huskies got into trouble early in the next game and trailed 6-1. Hutchins called another timeout to refocus her team and "remind them of our goals, remind them of our strategy and our game plan."

It worked. The Huskies went on a 6-1 run to tie the game 7-7. They built a 10-7 lead and then a 20-12 lead before ending the game 25-17.

"They were tough," Bitter said, but "we pushed through more. They definitely didn't keep pushing as hard as we did. They just had too many errors that last game."

The Huskies had a little of their own on the serve-receive and with communication, she said. Everyone aggressively goes after the ball, so the Huskies have to communicate. That's been the key to their success all season, especially with Sisters. It's something she had worried about early on in the season with so many sophomores and seniors who didn't have a long history playing together.

"I just want to thank the community of Sweet Home for supporting the girls," Hutchins said. The community showing up was a huge boost. "It really meant a lot to the girls."

The students turned out for the game, Bitter said, and the stands were full of people the girls didn't even known.

Looking forward toward their next opponent on Saturday, Bitter said the Huskies won a tight two-out-of-three match against Junction City in a tournament, coming out with two 26-24 wins.

"They definitely improved from last year," Bitter said The Tigers' blocking and hitting abilities have both gone up. The Huskies are hoping to hit around that block and dig up the hits this weekend.

"Skill-wise, they are like Sisters," Bitter said. "If we don't perform our game, they will definitely beat us."

She knows they've put up big fights against tough teams this season, Bitter said, but "I'm very confident."

Her team has had the experience it needs to win it and prepared the Huskies for state.

BAILEE HARTSOOK dives for a dig as Samantha Coats (5) waits for the ball.

"That's why I'm glad we've had this league, preseason and post-league," she said.

"This is a tough team," Hutchins said. "Everybody in the tournament is going to be legit."

Most of the matches can go either way, she said. "We're just practicing hard, sharpening our skills and our mental game. This is a big deal. We have a young team, and we're going to state for the first time."

Many of the other teams have been there repeatedly, Hutchins said.

"I think that there's a really good chance for everybody," she said. Among the coaches, the consensus is that there is no clear favorite.

"I'm really excited for the kids," Hutchins said. She's excited to see their hard work rewarded. "They've really worked hard, and to see them have success is what keeps you coming back to coach."


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