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Braves clinch fourth consecutive league title

Banks sweeps Valley Catholic to lock up another Cowapa League championship

Playing your most competitive league rival on the road with a conference title on the line?

That’s no problem, if you’re the Banks volleyball team.

Squaring off against Valley Catholic last Tuesday night, the top-ranked Braves needed a win to keep sole possession of first place.

And, boy, did they get it — with a riveting 25-12, 25-23, 25-22 sweep of the Valiants on their own home floor in Beaverton.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: KENT FRASURE
 - Banks junior libero Mary Schorn (1) celebrates a point during last Tuesday's Cowapa League volleyball match against Valley Catholic.

With just one conference match remaining after that, the victory assured the Braves of their fourth consecutive Cowapa League title and forced Valley Catholic to settle for second place for the second year in a row.

“I think just staying calm and not getting above the zone was the key for us that game,” said senior outside hitter MaKenna Partain, who, along with Megan Bunn, has been a starter on all four title teams.

When the two squads met on Oct. 10 in the final of the Seaside Tournament, Valley Catholic won the first set 25-23 before Banks came back to win the next two to take the tourney title.

The Braves (22-3 overall, 10-0 Cowapa) had no problem with a slow start last Tuesday in the first game. Starting at 10-5, Banks rattled off five of the next six points for a 15-6 lead, and after the No. 4 Valiants took a point, the Braves went on a 5-0 run to push the lead to 20-7, leading to a breezy win.

The second set was a much tighter affair in which neither side led by more than four points. The momentum seemed to belong to Valley Catholic late after the Valiants (14-6, 8-2) scored five straight points for a 23-19 advantage, but the Braves responded with a thrilling 6-0 run to close out the set.

“A lot of that second set was our mistakes, so a lot of their points were coming from us doing wrong things, and so we were kind of basically scoring their points,” Partain noted. “I think just controlling what we can control was our biggest goal. Towards the end we were OK. We just needed to control what we can control and get it done.”

In the final game, the teams nearly reversed roles, as Banks bombed out to a 12-4 run and still led by double digits at 18-7. But the Valiants rallied with a 10-0 run to close to 18-17 before the Braves could score again.

“I just think that it was our mental mistakes that was giving them momentum, and I feel like we really came back from that and showed them, like, ‘You were in, but we got it. We can do it,’” junior libero Mary Schorn said.

The Braves did recover to do it. The set was still within a point at 21-20, but Banks sealed the win — and sole possession of the league title — with a closing 4-2 run.

The champions completed a clean sweep of Cowapa opponents on Thursday, when they beat host Scappoose 25-12, 25-19, 25-16. The victory meant that not only has Banks won four consecutive league titles, but it also has done so with an undefeated league record each time.

Banks rounded out its regular season schedule on Saturday with a second-place finish at the Philomath Tournament. With Partain out of town, the Braves swept Seaside and Cascade in bracket play before dropping a tight 28-30, 24-26 loss to St. Helens — the reigning Class 5A state champion — in the final.

First round state playoff matches are scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 31, and Banks will host its match. A win would advance the Braves once again to the Class 4A state tournament, which is slated for Nov. 6-7 at Forest Grove High School.

“We just want to stay together, focus on one point at a time, one game at a time, don’t think ahead, just one day at a time,” Schorn said.