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Outlaws snuff Banks' title bid

Sisters rides its dominant front line to a three-set win over Banks in the state volleyball finals


Photo Credit: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: ZACK PALMER - Banks junior MaKenna Partain hits between the block of Sisters' Brenna Weems (10) and Hawley Harrer (3) during Saturday's state finals.EUGENE — Oh so close, yet again.

For the second time in the last five years, Banks played its way into the finals of the Class 4A volleyball tournament only to run into an overpowering opponent.

In 2010, Banks lost to a dynastic Crook County team that eventually won eight straight state titles. On Saturday at Lane Community College, the No. 1-ranked Braves fell 26-24, 25-19, 25-16 to a powerhouse Sisters team whose only losses this season came against 6A runner-up Central Catholic and 3A state champion Santiam Christian.

“Sisters was the better team that night. They definitely showed up more than we did,” Banks co-coach Diana Herb said. “I think if we had played better and still lost we would have felt better about it.

“But we still had a really good season. The road we traveled to get to that game was still a huge success. This group of girls, they worked so hard and accomplished a lot of things they didn’t know they were capable of. It was pretty impressive.”

Indeed, Banks’ run to the state finals was quite impressive. The Braves made short work of No. 9 Madras in the quarterfinals on Friday afternoon (25-23, 25-11, 25-20), then roundly thumped No. 4 Marshfield in the semifinals later that night (25-15, 26-24, 25-9).

Second-ranked Sisters was a different story, however.

Featuring an imposing front line anchored by 6-foot-3 Hawley Harrer and 6-foot Brenna Weems, plus one of the hardest-hitting attackers in the state in the form of tournament MVP Nila Lukens, the Outlaws simply overpowered Banks in Saturday’s title showdown.

A back-and-forth first set featured countless ties and lead changes, and Banks had a chance to take an early lead in the match after MaKenna Partain’s kill gave the Braves set point at 24-23. But two Banks errors gave the lead back to Sisters and Harrer smashed a kill to clinch a 26-24 victory and put the Braves back on their heels for the rest of the match.

“I felt like we made so many unforced errors in that first set,” Banks co-coach Suzanne Alley said. “We let them have that momentum swing and it carried through the whole match. After that first set, it just seemed like we couldn’t get the girls back into battle mode. It was a bummer.”

Herb agreed that the first-set letdown had an impact on how the Braves played the rest of the way.

“They took control of the match and you could see our confidence go down,” Herb said. “Against a team like that, you just can’t make that many unforced errors.”

Banks took early leads in the next two sets, but ultimately the Braves’ attack had trouble hitting around Harrer, Weems and the rest of the Outlaws’ blockers, and the Banks defense had no answer for Lukens, who finished with a match-high 15 kills, many of them of the spectacular variety.

“I give a lot of credit to Sisters and especially (Lukens). She just took over that match,” Alley said. “We talked about making some adjustments on defense, but we just didn’t have an answer for her.”

Partain led Banks with 12 kills, but she was also blocked six times and acknowledged the difficulty she had hitting around the Sisters defense.

“They’ve got some solid blockers,” Partain said. “I think a couple times we just weren’t playing too smart, and we’ve got to realize that if you’ve got a 6-3 blocker on you, you can’t just hit straight into her or she’s going to block you — as I learned a couple times.”

Megan Bunn added 10 kills for Banks, setter Alyssa Chung had 31 assists and libero Hannah VanDomelen had 13 digs and two aces.

“Right now it’s hard just because that’s not the team we usually are, and it sucks going out on that,” said VanDomelen, one of three seniors on this year’s Banks team. “(Sisters) definitely earned it. They deserve it. If we would have given them a better game, I think this wouldn’t have been so hard.

“But at the same time, we had such a special season and this is such a special group of girls, I wouldn’t rather go out any other way with any other team.”

The state tournament experience wasn’t completely devoid of highlights, however.

Banks looked sharp in a three-set undressing of Madras in the quarterfinals on Friday, and the Braves were equally impressive in a three-set rout of Marshfield in the semifinals.

Against the Pirates, Banks breezed to an easy 25-15 victory in the first set but ran into trouble in the second. Marshfield took a 24-18 lead and seemed on the verge of tying the match, but Partain came through with a kill for a side out, and then she served for seven consecutive points — including two aces — as the Braves came from behind to win 26-24.

The third set was merely a formality, with Banks surging to a 20-6 lead on a kill by Bunn, and the junior added a solo block to close out a 25-9 victory that sent the Braves into the state championship match for the second time in five years.

Bunn finished with eight kills, 16 digs and three blocks. Partain led the way with 11 kills, while Mary Schorn had eight and Nikayla Doane added seven. Chung had 28 assists in that semifinal match.

When it was all said and done, the Braves were content not to harp on Saturday’s loss, but instead reflect on the entirety of the season.

“I’m so proud. I just can’t even describe it,” Partain said. “We worked our butts off for this whole season. We worked so hard. There wasn’t a team more deserving than us to make it this far.

“Especially with girls that I’ve been playing with my whole life, getting here with them is just amazing.”

VanDomelen had similar sentiments for her teammates.

“I’ve never been more proud of a team. This is the best team I’ve ever been on,” she said. “The girls are amazing. I wouldn’t have spent it any other way or with anyone else.”

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