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Crusader volleyball 2nd again

Only Central Catholic can stop Jesuit in the Class 6A state tourney
by: Miles Vance POISED AND READY — The Jesuit volleyball team gathers together prior to the beginning of its state championship match against Central Catholic at Liberty High School on Saturday.

HILLSBORO - Everybody knew that the Jesuit volleyball team would be good again in 2011.

But nobody, probably not even the Crusaders themselves, expected that they would go as far as they eventually did.

Jesuit, after back-to-back Class 6A state runner-up finishes in 2009 and 2010, was one of the Metro favorites again this year. But after graduating two-time state Player of the Year Elizabeth Brenner, eight seniors and four starters, everybody assumed the Crusaders would take a step back in 2011.

But this year's Crusader crew, bolstered by an influx of new talent and tempered by hard work and tough competition, soared all the way to the state championship match yet again. Jesuit won two straight matches at the tournament - held Friday and Saturday at Liberty High School - before falling to Central Catholic in the title contest for the third straight year.

'Most of us didn't expect to make it this far so we're just grateful that we got to come this far and participate in the championship,' said Jesuit defensive specialist Maddie De Rego, the team's lone senior.

'We're really proud of how well we did this year,' said freshman middle blocker Ariana Wiltjer, a second-team all-tournament pick. 'We all showed we could play and went against what everyone was expecting.'

'We went as far as we possibly could,' added junior outside hitter Megan McCool, a first-team all-tournament selection. 'I'm really proud of our team.'

The Crusaders opened the tournament with straight-set wins over Sprague and Clackamas to earn a third consecutive state-title match-up against top-ranked and unbeaten Mt. Hood Conference champion Central Catholic.

The talented Rams, led by senior star Martenne Bettendorf and her all-tournament teammates Camille Foster and Kailee Johnson, held the upper hand there, winning 25-19, 25-17 and 25-19, but that loss did little to steal the luster from Jesuit's surprisingly success season.

'I'm really proud of us, even though we lost tonight,' Wiltjer said. 'We had a lot of good chemistry and we all fit really well together and we all loved each other.'

'It's tough being the only senior, but we have so much talent on this team that it didn't matter,' De Rego said, 'because we work really hard. We worked really hard at practice every single day.'

Jesuit hung with the Rams impressively in game one, trailing just 18-16 before Central pulled away with a kill by Raina Hembry, a block and two successful attacks by Bettendorf.

Likewise, Jesuit was down just 14-11 after a serve for point by Jessica Finn in game two, but the Rams scored 11 of the game's last 17 points to pull away, four of those on Jesuit errors, five on Bettendorf kills and two more on attacks by Johnson.

The Rams hit the ground running again in game three, pushing ahead 7-1 when Bettendorf went down the line, but Jesuit didn't go away easily. Junior middle blocker Anne Elorriaga won a sideout with a tip and Wiltjer followed with three kills in the next four points to cut Central's lead to 8-5.

Elorriaga had two more kills mid-game to stay within 15-11, but Jesuit got no closer than five points the rest of the way, the last times at 23-18 and 24-19 on Ram hitting errors before Central closed out the win.

'I think that what was important was we didn't relax enough,' McCool said. 'We were too nervous and I don't think we had a reason to be. We didn't have anything to lose.'

'No one thought we would get this far,' Wiltjer said. 'I love this team a lot.'

The Crusaders opened the state tournament on Friday morning with a 25-17, 25-16, 25-14 sweep of Central Valley Conference champion Sprague (21-7). Wiltjer had three kills among her team's final five points to seal up game one. The Crusaders pulled away midway through game two with De Rego serving five straight points, and Elorriaga serving five more to end game two. Jesuit left the Olympians behind early in game three, taking advantage of several Sprague errors and ending the contest with a crosscourt Wiltjer kill.

'I'm really excited,' Elorriaga said. 'That was a great way to push through and we're good to go.'

'We played really well today,' added junior outside hitter Maddie Keudell. 'We played a lot smarter, and we just came out ready.'

Next up, the Crusaders ran into Three Rivers League champion Clackamas in the semifinals, and facing the second-ranked team in the state, Jesuit put together its best match of the tournament to win 27-25, 25-19, 25-17.

To do it against a Cavalier team that featured two first-team all-tournament picks in outside hitters Kelsie Christensen and Shelby Vasconcellos-Mattocks made the victory even more gratifying.

'We've known that, through rebuilding this year, we were going to get a great team next year,' McCool said. 'So then we just thought 'This year, why not try go all the way?''

'I'm just glad we got' there, Elorriaga said. 'I'm so proud of us.'

To see complete photo galleries from these games, please go to www.milesvance.exposuremanager.com.