Buffs win quarterfinal match, bring home trophy
After an inauspicious start to the 2011 volleyball season, the Madras White Buffalos focused on one thing at a time.
The deliberate approach to achieving their goals paid off, and then some, with a Class 4A fifth-place trophy at the state tournament Saturday at Lane Community College in Eugene.
It was the first time since 1987 a Madras team has won a trophy at the state tournament.
The Buffs, the lowest seeded team to qualify for the quarterfinals at No. 13, knocked off the No. 5 La Grande Tigers in a five-set thriller to open the tournament.
Set scores were 25-20, 24-26, 25-13, 20-25 and 16-14.
"We probably should have cleaned that up in three, but La Grande fought hard in that second set," Madras head coach Jamie Smith said. "We were able to put a little run together in the fifth set and end it."
Sophomore middle blocker Alexis Urbach had a big night for the Buffs to open the tournament, leading the way with 17 kills and 22 digs. Senior Sarah Brown chipped in 16 kills, while sophomore Shelby Mauritson had 12 kills, 14 assists and 14 digs.
Smith said the teams essentially traded points in the deciding set until very late, when Madras was able to string together just enough points to move on to the semifinals.
In the semifinals, the Buffs ran into seven-time defending champions Crook County Cowgirls, and the team from Prineville flexed its muscle in a big way with a three-set victory.
Scores were 25-10, 25-18 and 25-19.
"They just didn't make a lot of mistakes, and whatever we tried to do just didn't work," Smith said about the match against the Cowgirls, who eventually won the title with a straight set win against Astoria.
Crook County's two top hitters, Makayla Lindberg and Hannah Troutman, couldn't be slowed down by anyone in the tournament, Smith said.
Smith said his team served well the entire tournament, missing on just 8 percent of their serves, and had 10 aces against Crook County.
Brown notched eight kills and sophomore setter Elle Renault had 12 assists.
In the third-place final, the Buffs met a Banks team they played in the Seaside Tournament title game in mid-October. While the Buffs gave the Braves a handful, they fell in straight sets 26-24, 25-23 and 25-19.
Smith said his club was up early in the first set, as much as 8-1 at one point, but Banks' experience surfaced and they slowly and methodically chipped away at the lead.
"In the third set, they just outplayed us," Smith said. "They dictated the tempo, but we played with a lot of energy in the first two sets."
Urbach and Brown each had 10 kills, while Renault ended with 18 assists.
Mauritson was named to the second team all-tournament team.
Smith said it was a landmark year for the program and he's hopeful it's just the start of the White Buffalos consistently being in the playoff field year in and year out.
"We're definitely satisfied with the result," he said. "It's a huge step for the program, and the kids. We're losing some senior leadership, but we'll return six sophomores next year."
Among those returners are some main producers in the Buffs' system.
Urbach and Mauritson will be back to provide plenty of kills and blocks, while Renault will be back at setter.
Smith said having Urbach play the back row, as well as the front, next season could be a key to his team's success.
"This year working with Alexis to play the back was our big project, and she's done a great job," Smith said. "We're trying to keep her on the floor as much as we can."
After the Buffs began the season 1-6, their only win coming against Class 5A Benson, they hit their stride once the Tri-Valley Conference season began, tied for the conference title and won the Junction City Tournament.
They finished second in the Seaside Tournament and at the Dallas Tournament.
All season long, Smith talked about the young players and the experienced players trying to figure each other out and building a rapport with one another, and once the league schedule began, the switch flipped and the Buffs went from a mediocre team to a legitimate top-5 state contender.
The team loses four seniors: libero Lauren Simmons, defensive specialist Natalie Martin, middle blocker/outside hitter Sarah Brown and back-up setter Caitlin Hulsey.