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The Lady Bowmen rally past Willamette to earn a return trip to the Class 5A state tourney
by: DAN BROOD BIG, BIG WIN — The Lady Bowmen celebrate following their state playoff win over Willamette.

SHERWOOD - Down two games to none.

No problem.

Down 10-3 and then 20-14 in the crucial fourth game.

No problem.

Down 14-13 and facing match point in the decisive fifth game.

No problem.

At least it's no problem if you're the Sherwood High School volleyball team and you're determined not to let anything stand in your way of another trip to the state tournament.

The defending Class 5A state champion Lady Bowmen, in nerve-wracking, nail-biting, never-say-die fashion, earned a return berth to the state tournament by scoring a dramatic, thrilling 22-25, 22-25, 25-15, 26-24, 16-14 win over Willamette in a Class 5A state playoff match played Saturday at Sherwood High School.

'That was amazing,' emotionally overwhelmed Sherwood senior libero Ellie Drain said following the Lady Bowmen victory celebration, which rivaled the celebration the team had following its state title win over Liberty last year. 'I can't put it into words. I'm on top of the world right now.'

'This means the world to us,' Sherwood senior middle blocker Megan Foote said. 'This was the most intense game I've played in my life - it was the funnest game ever.'

'Oh my gosh. It was amazing,' Sherwood senior outside hitter Hailey Codling said. 'After the last point, it was crazy. We all had so much adrenaline.'

Willamette, the No. 3 team out of the Midwestern League, finished its season with a final overall record of 11-10.

Sherwood, the No. 2 team from the Northwest Oregon Conference, improved to 18-5 on the season while also claiming a bid to the Class 5A state tournament for the third straight year.

The Lady Bowmen will open the state tournament, which is being held at Liberty High School in Hillsboro, Friday when it faces Marshfield in a quarterfinal match starting at 3:15 p.m.

'Getting back to the tournament is really important to us,' Sherwood coach Emily Gustafson said. 'We want to have that as an expectation for the program. Tonight, we proved we deserve to be there.'

And the Lady Bowmen did that in spectacular manner.

Sherwood watched Willamette win the first two games of the best-of-five game match by identical 25-22 scores - putting the Lady Bowmen just one lost game away from elimination.

But that didn't seem to damper Sherwood's spirits.

'As a team, we stand strong,' Codling said. 'We knew that we could come back from anything.'

Willamette, eyeing a sweep, got off to a 5-3 lead in the third game.

Sherwood came back to tie the score at 5-5 on an ace serve by junior Jessie Koster. A block by junior middle blocker Kathryn Groenweghe would give the Lady Bowmen a 7-5 lead.

Willamette rallied to take an 11-10 lead on a kill by Lia Scrivner, but Sherwood game storming back to regain the lead, at 12-11 on a kill by Foote.

The Lady Bowmen took off from there. An ace by Codling gave Sherwood a 13-11 lead. Then, with senior Bailey Hutchinson serving, Sherwood ran off four straight points, starting with an ace by Hutchinson, to up the lead to 18-12.

A kill by Codling and back-to-back kills by Groenweghe, both coming off sets by sophomore Danielle LeBlanc, gave the Lady Bowmen a 21-13 advantage. From there, an ace by Koster and a kill by Codling helped the Lady Bowmen close out the 25-15 third-game victory.

'In Game 3, we played like we know how to play,' Gustafson said.

But the momentum Sherwood seemed to gain was quickly taken back by Willamette in the fourth game of the match.

The Wolverines sprinted out to leads of 3-0, 7-1 and 10-3 in the fourth game. Kills by Koster and Foote helped Sherwood close the gap to 14-12, but Willamette pulled away again, opening up a 20-14 advantage.

But the Lady Bowmen weren't about to give up.

'We started treating every point like it was game point,' Groenweghe said. 'We took it one point at a time.'

That strategy paid off.

A tip by Foote and three blocks by Groenweghe helped Sherwood trim the lead to 21-19. A kill by Koster off a LeBlanc set cut the margin to one. The Lady Bowmen then tied the game at 21-21 on a Willamette error. Sherwood, not slowing down, took a 22-21 lead on an ace by junior Kayla Shearer.

Willamette, getting a kill by senior Nicole Arnold, ended the Sherwood run and tied the game at 22-22.

Things went back and forth from there. A kill by Foote gave Sherwood a 25-24 lead. Foote followed that with a block to clinch the 26-24 fourth-game win.

That sent the match to a decisive fifth-game played to 15.

Sherwood took charge early, taking a 5-3 lead. The margin went to 9-6 after Foote put down a kill off a set by LeBlanc.

But Willamette answered back, scoring three straight points to tie the match at 9-9. From there, things again went back and forth, as the game would be tied at 10-10, 11-11 and 12-12.

A Willamette error gave the Lady Bowmen a 13-12 lead, but the Wolverines tied things up at 13-13 on a kill by Arnold. The Wolverines then claimed a 14-13 lead on a block by senior Alicia Parks, meaning that the Lady Bowmen were just one point away from having their season come to a close.

'We were not going to let that happen,' Groenweghe said. 'Losing was not an option.'

A Willamette error on a long point tied the score at 14-14. Groenweghe then came up with a key kill to give the Lady Bowmen a 15-14 lead - putting them one point away from winning.

On the next tension-packed play, a Willamette kill attempt sailed out of bounds to the right of the court, giving Sherwood the win and igniting a wild celebration.

'It was all emotion,' Drain said. 'Honestly, it felt like when we won the championship.'

'After that last point, it was like 'Oh yes, we finally did it,'' Koster said. 'It all came down to our motivation and our heart. We knew we had to play our best.'

'I never had any doubts,' Drain said. 'We can do anything.'

With that attitude, the Lady Bowmen are taking high hopes with the to the Class 5A state tournament.

'Getting there is so important to us,' Koster said. 'We needed to be there. Now, we feel like we can do anything.'

'It's all so exciting,' Codling said. 'We lost a lot of people from last year, but I think we grew even stronger - we're 12 players strong.'

Marshfield brings an overall record of 20-3 into Friday's quarterfinal match.