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Braves headed to state tournament for seventh straight year

With another trip to the Class 4A volleyball state tournament on the line, Banks wasted little time flexing its muscle against Cottage Grove in a first-round state playoff matchup last Saturday.

The top-ranked Braves raced to a 25-11, 25-18, 25-9 victory over the 16th-seeded Lions, earning Banks its seventh straight invite to the season-ending state tournament, which will be staged for the first time this year at nearby Forest Grove High School instead of its usual home at Lane Community College in Eugene. NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: KENT FRASURE
 - Banks libero Mary Schorn (1) celebrates a point with her teammates during last Saturday's state playoff victory against Cottage Grove.

“It’s so nice,” said senior Megan Bunn, who helped guide the Braves to a second-place finish at last year’s state tourney, as well as fourth place in 2013 and third in 2012.

“It’s nice that it is close so a lot more of our fans can come and watch. We’ll have a big cheering (section). I think having our fans there makes us feel like we have another team on our side.”

Fellow senior Nikayla Doane agreed that it will be a different experience this year playing so close to home.

“We’re pretty excited,” she said. “I was a little upset because we always have team bonding in the hotel and we do a lot of stuff down there, but we were talking about all staying the night at someone’s house and then going to state the next day. We haven’t figured that out quite yet.”

The Braves have the rest of the week to firm up their state tournament plans, but before that could happen they had to get past visiting Cottage Grove last Saturday.

Senior-laden Banks (24-3) has been ranked No. 1 in Class 4A for most of the season, and the Braves showed why with a swift and decisive 25-11 victory in the first set on Saturday.

That gave way to a somewhat less inspired performance in the second set, when Cottage Grove (9-13) hung around in the early going. The Lions tied things up at 9-9 before Banks used a 9-1 run to stretch the lead to 18-10. Cottage Grove got as close as 19-15 before Banks went back on the offensive and put the set away.

“I feel like we just kind of let up a little bit and got kind of unfocused, but in the third set we ... just went in and took care of business,” Doane said.

Did they ever.

The Braves scored the first six points of the set and led 11-1 before Cottage Grove made a small rally to get within six points. That was when Banks put its foot on the gas once again, scoring 11 of the final 13 points to pull away for a match-clinching 25-9 victory.

“I think we just, for a second, lose a little bit of focus but we get right back into it as soon as it happens,” Bunn said of the second-set lull. “I think we did better tonight on getting the point right back.”

Banks will open the state tournament at 8 a.m. on Friday with a match against Hidden Valley (19-4), which advanced with a four-set victory over La Grande last Friday. The winner will play either Valley Catholic or Crook County in the semifinals on Friday night, and the finals are slated for Saturday at 8:30 p.m.

“We’re just going to take it point by point and team by team,” Bunn said. “We’re not looking ahead.”

“We’re just focused on who our first opponent is going to be and we’ll see where it goes from there,” Doane said. “Especially for our seniors, just to leave it all out there and leave the state tournament with no regrets.”