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Crusaders' size too much for scrappy Skyhawks

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - The Jesuit volleyball team celebrates a point in the first set of the Crusaders four-set win over Southridge.

Pushed to the verge of a fifth game by a tenacious, unflinching Southridge volleyball team that had means of stunning the state, Jesuit looked to the skies for its towering power hitters and effectively hightailed away from the Skyhawks.

Trailing 11-5 in the fourth set of a high-spirited, intensive match between two state tournament-caliber teams, the Crusaders leaned on the tall and agile trio of Claire Zanon, Nicole Peterson and Jasmine Gross to reel off a 25-19 win and complete a 25-20, 25-20, 23-25, 25-19 victory over Southridge on Tuesday.

Zanon — a 5-foot-9 freshman — zipped six kills through Southridge in the fourth set while Peterson — who is 5-foot-11— tallied four and the 6-foot-2 Gross added two along with a pair of blocks. So accustomed to putting a team away early mentally and physically, Jesuit was tested for the first time in Metro play and responded with fire and fortitude.by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit outside hitter Jasmine Gross goes up high above the net for a kill in the fourth set of the Crusaders win over Southridge on Tuesday.

It also helps to have a stable of uber springy and rangy athletes like Katherine Decker and Alexa Dixon who looked as though they were jumping on trampolines along the net.

“It was tough, but thankfully we pulled through,” said Peterson. “We knew coming into the game it was going to be really challenging, and (Southridge) played so well. We had to make sure we fixed what we did wrong and hope for the best.”

The Skyhawks were the first Metro team to take a set from the fifth-ranked Crusaders, winning the third set, 25-22. Southridge also had leads in each of the four sets, including a commanding 11-4 advantage in the first set. Yet, it was Jesuit’s physical gifts that can’t be taught or coached that ultimately made the difference. Up front, the Crusaders don’t have a player who’s shorter than 5-foot-8, and each of them have the hops to cuff high-speed kills at the net.

When Southridge would get a run going and reel off a string of points, Gross or Decker would simply spring up out of their middle blocking position and swat a Skyhawk spike. Down 11-4 in the first game, Jesuit went on a 7-0 run to tie the set, then leaned on kills from Symone Tran and aces from Decker and Peterson to snatch the first set. by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit senior setter Jessica Finn lifts a pass for middle hitter Jasmine Gross in the second set of the Crusaders four set win over Southridge.

Zanon and Peterson combined for 11 kills in the second game, including a trio of consecutive points toward the end of the set that put Southridge in a big hole.

“We just stayed consistent and tried not to get down on ourselves when we made a mistake,” said Zanon. “(Southridge) played really good. They’re a great team, and we knew it was going to be a challenge, but we were ready for it.”

Gross said Jesuit’s players saw to it that they communicated on the court and stayed together when Southridge seemingly swayed the game’s energy to its side of the net.

“We can’t get down, we have to stay talking,” said Peterson. “That’s what really pulled us together. We made sure we stayed positive to each other and stayed calm when we played.”

“We get on a roll, but we always need to make sure that we don’t get cocky,” said Gross. “We just have to keep pushing ourselves in the game and in practice.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge senior setter Nicole Rigoni gets ahold of a Jesuit spike attempt.

Perceptive plays

In the third game, Southridge pestered Jesuit with perceptive plays that caused forced errors on behalf of the Crusaders. Sofia Basauri blocked a ball for a point, Nicole Rigoni tallied an ace, and the Southridge offense caused three Crusader misplays.

Basauri blasted a kill so hard that it bounced off the arms of Jesuit’s Jessica Finn and into the upper deck of The Cage to give Southridge a 19-14 lead.

Rigoni said the Skyhawks’ court awarness in the third game was precise as well, and their top players played impressively.

“Sofia did a great job, and so did Krysta (Hamilton), and Caitlin (Mahoney) came in and made a difference,” said Rigonii.

“Kelly (McClean) came in and passed lights out, and her defense was amazing. There’s nothing more our team could’ve done except for the little things.”

Southridge lost to top-ranked Central Catholic at a tournament in Bend last weekend, but head coach Brooke Mayo said the Skyhawks’ defense was great, and that carried over to the clash with Jesuit. Even with players such as Bethany Kosmoski sidelined, Southridge was undaunted when it came to facing Jesuit’s high-octane offense. The decidedly contending Skyhawks took the Crusaders clubbers’ best shots, and while they didn’t come away victorious, they walked out of The Cage confident as ever. by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge outside hitter Sofia Basauri jumps to meet a set pass from Nicole Rigoni in the first set of the Skyhawks loss to Jesuit on Tuesday.

“Defense isn’t a skill where you have to be technical,” said Rigoni. “You just have to want the ball and want to go get it. We wanted it tonight. We fought and did everything we could. This gives us a ton of confidence. If we play them again in the playoffs, we know where to get them.”

“Our defense has gotten a lot better in the last week. And as we play tougher teams, that’s really important,” said Mayo. “We know we have to work a little bit harder because we’re not the biggest team. We talk to our blockers about just getting touches and waiting on our blocks against those taller hitters so we can at least slow the ball down. When you’re smaller, you just have to play tough defense.”

Junior defensive specialist Kelly McClean compiled several important digs in the back row and ran the show defensively, putting the Skyhawks in the right spots to scuttle Jesuit’s spikes.

“Our defense was awesome, and our girls played probably the best they have all year,” said Rigoni. “We’re peaking at a great time because we’re going into the playoffs, and we want to battle with every team that we can. We want to get to the top eight (the state tournament), and you can see how much our girls want it.”

With the Metro season drawing to a close, Peterson said Jesuit has to maintain focus and keep pushing through the final two games against Aloha and Beaverton.

“There’s still so much we have to improve on, especially in practice,” said Peterson. “We have to keep fighting for every ball.”

Mayo said she wasn’t sure where Southridge was at toward the end of the season, but Tuesday’s efforts and the Skyhawks’ performance in Bend has her enthused about the year’s final weeks.

“The girls work really hard every single practice,” said Mayo. “They compete every single day in practice and the games, so I think keeping that competitiveness is allowing us to peak at the right time. We’re confident that we’re going into the playoffs at our best.”




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