Southridge volleyball upends Jesuit for Metro League lead
The innumerable-time Metro League champions quickly shook their triumphant opponents' hands, gathered their belongings in the nearby bleachers, bolted up "The Cage's" rickety plastic stairs two-at-a-time and beelined it to their idling luxury tour bus awaiting them outside.
One could hardly blame the Jesuit volleyball team for not wanting to stick around the Southridge High School premises on Monday night.
After all, it appears there's a new sheriff in town, a shameless, defiant corporal that snatched the Crusaders' Metro crown away along with a cache of confidence that's sure to sustain an extended playoff run.
Southridge — a team that until this season had both never beat Jesuit nor won a Metro League championship — pulled off what many around the conference believed was unthinkable, knocking off the Crusaders for the second time this season in a 22-25, 25-21, 14-25, 25-13, 15-9 victory on Monday night.
"It's like we're making history," Southridge junior setter Lindsey Lambert said with a smile. "We had great cohesion and team chemistry on the court. Even if we made a mistake, we had each other's backs and tried to keep each other up. We're hoping to keep up this success later in the season and not peak right now. We just have to keep working hard. We're not settling for this."
"It's so crazy to think we're the team that did this," Southridge senior Teddy Batinkova said. "Jesuit is a really good team. They come out and they're always strong and competitive. It feels even better to win knowing we beat such an amazing team."
With the win, Southridge (15-0 overall, 10-0 in Metro) swept the season series against Jesuit and now essentially has a three-game lead in the league standings over the long-time Metro monarchs six games to go. Since 2011, Jesuit had only lost one Metro match. Now they've lost two in the same season to the same team. While many pegged Southridge as a team capable of pushing Jesuit, especially with the addition of superstar transfer Chloe Brown to the starting lineup, it's still a feat you had to see to believe. Jesuit, frankly, just doesn't lose frequently. And the Crusaders didn't go down without a fight, either. After getting beat in five sets on their home floor versus the Skyhawks to start Metro play, Jesuit came into Monday motivated as ever to protect what they've presided over the last decade or so.
The two teams split the first pair of sets Brown's two-way prowess helped pull Southridge within 23-22, but Jesuit junior Rose Booth was too tough, stopping the Skyhawks' momentum square with a silencing kill and set-winning ace to take the first set 25-23.
Southridge went on a 5-0 spurt to close out the second set. Senior Danielle Christiensen provided a huge lift at the net, killing a ball along the right side and swatting another defensively. Then, after a Crusader error, Cameron Brink bagged a point and Lambert's left-handed cloak-and-dagger kill split the Crusader defense to win the set and even the match.
But, for as competitive as the first two sets were, Jesuit was nasty in the third controlling the third set from start to finish, getting pivotal contributions from Booth, Alyssa Hughes, Brooke Olson and Lauren McCabe all who played with energy, efficiency and elbow grease, stemming Southridge's tide from the second set. Jesuit jumped out to an 8-3 lead and as opposed to the second set, never surrendered the lead, getting up by as much as double figures.
It felt like revenge was at Jesuit's fingertips. Yet, Southridge was unabashed. The fourth set was a near mirror image of the third, except it was Southridge, not Jesuit beating its Metro foe to the punch. Focused from the start, Brink, Brown, Lambert and senior Natalie Hoff all lived up to their star billing, guiding and propelling the offense, directing and dominating on defense in the 25-13 rout.
"I think it shows a lot about our team character and team chemistry and how our coaches have imprinted in us to never give up and always give our best," Lambert said. "That was always in the back of our minds when we weren't doing our best. We knew we could come back because we've done it before. We just had to execute on the court and I think we did that."
"We did a really good job of executing with positive energy," Batinkova said. "If somebody made a mistake or Jesuit made a point, it was ok. We just had to get back together and hold our heads high."
Fittingly, four sets weren't enough for either Metro power. And with the match's energy oscillated toward Southridge, the Skyhawks seized the game for good. Brown bopped a big kill and Lambert dropped in an ace from the backline to go up 4-1. Then, Batinkova blocked a Jesuit kill attempt and the Crusaders committed a serving error as Southridge extended its lead to 6-1.
"Starting strong is a crucial part of the game," Lambert said. "Once you start strong, you have the momentum and this is a game of momentum.
Brink and Brown, both of whom were critical two-way stars all night-long, came through with consecutive kills, then Brown and Batinkova teamed up and swatted a Crusader kill at the net to make it 13-8. Finally, Lambert finished off the Crusaders when she ran to the net and stayed tough against a Jesuit double team and stuffed the ball to close out the fifth set triumph.
Down two sets and needing to play its best when the moment called for it, Southridge played arguably its best stretch of volleyball when it was most necessary. The fourth and fifth sets were the type of championship-level efforts that a team can fall back on in times of trouble, should it ever come Southridge's way in the postseason.
"At times, when we were down, we tried to keep everyone up and keep everybody thinking happy thoughts," Lambert said. "We're a comeback team. We never give up. Even when we were down big, we never thought it was over."
The Southridge-Jesuit sequel was sensational and if a trilogy is in the works come state tournament time, that too should offer as much drama and hair-raising action as the first two blockbusters.
"It's definitely a rivalry now," Lambert said. "I hope we see them again this season, too, because I know it'll be a really good game. Jesuit is such a rival and it's just such a fun game to play. We know a lot of their players on the other side of the net, so it makes it even more fun."
Southridge has been ranked No. 1 in the state since early September. The addition of Brown has been "the missing piece" to an already loaded Skyhawk squad, Lambert said. Brink, Hoff, Lambert, Christiensen, Batinkova, Cara McClean and Avery Eaves, amongst others, have all improved greatly as Southridge's nucleus from a season ago. But, with teams such as Sheldon, Central Catholic, and Clackamas in 6A's top-five and Jesuit still looking formidable, Southridge isn't letting off the gas.
"We're good, but everyone is good at the 6A level, so it just depends on who wants it more at the right time," Batinkova said. "If we work hard, we'll accomplish big things. We're ready, but there are always things we can come back to practice and work on. You're never the best you can be and after a big win, you have to work just as hard as you did before. There are a lot of teams that want (a state title) and you have to compete for it."