Astoria knocks Banks a game off the pace in the quest for a regular-season league championship

Many predicted that this year's Cowapa League volleyball championship would come down to Banks and Astoria, and the two teams couldn't have looked more evenly matched than they did last Thursday night.

In a hotly contested, back-and-forth match, Astoria prevailed with a thrilling 27-25, 25-18, 19-25, 23-25, 17-15 victory that gave the Fishermen a leg up in the league title chase.

'It was exciting, but some of the things that have plagued us all season plagued us again in that match,' Banks coach Suzanne Alley said.

'We stayed up pretty late watching film after the match and we realized that some of those mistakes had been happening all season, we were just able to get away with it against teams that weren't as good.'

While the loss was certainly a setback to the Lady Braves' league title aspirations, it did allow the coaching staff to diagnose a few lingering problems and introduce potential solutions.

'I actually think it was a good thing that we lost because it forced us to examine our lineup and make some changes,' Alley said. 'I think if we had squeaked it out, we wouldn't have taken that closer look. I think in the long run it will help us.'

Abby Hardie had 14 kills against Astoria, and the senior middle blocker - along with teammate Jennifer Hilger - continues to anchor the Lady Braves' offense at the net.

'Both our middles are kind of carrying the load for us offensively,' Alley said.

Instead of taking Friday off as originally planned, Alley and the rest of the Banks coaching staff called a practice to implement a few changes, including moving junior hitter Kaylin Vandomelen from the left side to the right.

'She swings a lot better from over there and her hitting percentage has gone way up since the move,' Alley said, adding that junior Marla Gooding has also improved her hitting while fellow junior Melissa Masters is making strides defensively.

Friday's changes yielded immediate results, with Banks beating Astoria 25-19, 27-25 in the semifinals of the Seaside Invitational on Saturday. The Lady Braves lost to undefeated Corbett in the finals, but Alley was still pleased with her team's quick progress, evidenced by Monday's 25-13, 25-14, 25-7 thrashing of Seaside in a Cowapa League match.

Next up is a home game against Tillamook today. The Cheesemakers took Astoria to five sets on Monday and currently sit in third place in the league standings.

'This is a big match for us,' Alley said. 'They just keep getting tougher and tougher. We'll have to play our butts off to beat them.'

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