Valiants get sixth at state

VC's first-round loss limits it to sixth place at the state tournament
by: Miles Vance OH YEAH — Valley Catholic’s Rebecca Baglai (center) and Maddie Bernard celebrate a point during their team’s loss to Blanchet at the Class 3A state volleyball tournament

EUGENE - Valley Catholic's appearance at the Class 3A state volleyball tournament did not result in a state championship for the Valiants.

But it did satisfy most of Valley Catholic's other needs.

The Valiants, after finishing second in the Lewis and Clark League, played their

way back into the 3A state tournament for the fourth straight season, and while a first-round loss put a damper on the team's success there, Valley Catholic still got to play three matches on the state's biggest stage and placed sixth overall. The tournament was held at Lane Community College on Friday and Saturday.

'I was disappointed we lost in the first round of the tournament and disappointed in our play during that match, but I was very happy that the team kept playing tough, not only in the first consolation round against Cascade Christian, but also throughout a hard fought match against Santiam,' said Valley Catholic coach Justin Denham. 'They stayed positive and put on quite a show throughout.'

And for a Valley Catholic team that featured six seniors - Allie Lambert, Maddie Bernard, Kelsey Luyten, Amanda Stevens, Rebecca Baglai and Tori Kemper - the chance to finish their careers at state meant a great deal.

'Having six seniors … helped the entire team through the long season,' Denham said. 'I am very sorry to (their) high school careers ending, but I am also very excited to see how the team will change and grow this offseason and next fall.'

The Valiants (26-6) opened their tournament with a 20-25, 25-20, 25-23, 25-23 loss to Blanchet Catholic (16-11), the PacWest Conference co-champion and a team Valley Catholic had beaten three times earlier in the season.

Valley Catholic got great contributions in that match from Baglai, but VC's difficulty with serve-receive and passing proved to much to overcome.

'We struggled with the same issues we had throughout the season - passing and defense,' Denham said. 'We were unable to pass and dig well enough to get our offense running.'

The Valiants rallied on Saturday morning, however, and rolled past Cascade Christian 25-16, 25-10, 25-19 in Valley's most complete performance of the tournament. The Challengers, the Southern Cascade League champs, saw their season end at 17-7.

Kemper and Katharine Jesse stepped up at outside hitter, Baglai and Maddie Henningsen controlled the middle of the net, and the team also got solid offensive contributions from Ashley Ferris and Bernard.

'This match saw our return to being a dominant offensive team and all our hitters played a huge role in our offense,' Denham said, while also giving a nod to defenders Luyten and Lambert. 'Our offense can not run without passes and digs, and our back row players helped with that.'

That win set up a match-up with PacWest co-champ Santiam Christian in the fourth-place match, and while Valley Catholic came up on the short end of a 21-25, 25-20, 25-15, 18-25, 15-11 decision, the Valiants knew they'd given it their all.

'Everyone on our team had wanted to play Santiam in a state match for at least three years, so when we got our chance, we were excited,' Denham said. 'Santiam has been a team also known for its offense so I anticipated this match to be an offensive shootout, and it didn't disappoint.'

Kemper and Baglai led VC in hitting against the Eagles, and Kemper - with her team facing a huge deficit in game four - served seven aces to lift the Valiants back into contention and force that final set.

'I am confident in saying that we forced Santiam to earn their victory instead of just handing it to them,' Denham said. 'I can not ask anything more in defeat.'

Kemper and Baglai both won second-team all-tournament honors to close out their senior seasons.