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Banks headed back to state tournament

Braves blast Junction City to punch their ticket to the state volleyball tournament

 - Banks junior Megan Bunn rips a kill past Junction City's Caitlin Victor during Saturday's first round Class 4A state playoff match.This is the week that Banks has been waiting for.

As they have so often this season, the Braves rolled over a volleyball opponent Saturday, breezing past No. 16 Junction City in straight sets at home in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs.

In a season of lopsided scores, this one was not particularly memorable, as the Braves cruised 25-11, 25-20, 25-12 for their 27th victory of the season and 17th in a row.

What did make the win significant, though, is that it pushed Banks into the Class 4A state tournament for a sixth consecutive year.

The Braves (27-1) enter the tourney, which starts Friday at Lane Community College in Eugene, as the top seed and will face No. 9 Madras in a 1:15 p.m. quarterfinal match.

“We’re pretty excited,” junior MaKenna Partain said. “We have been working extremely hard this whole season for state. I’m excited. I love playing at state. It’s one of my favorite experiences.”

Coming in as the No. 1 seed might seem a burden for some programs, but Partain said that Banks’ goal is to play relaxed volleyball, and that the coaches have told the players that now is the time to show what they’ve been working toward all season.

And, besides, the Braves are not taking any opponent lightly.

“To us, it really doesn’t matter, because we know that every one of these teams that we’re going to be playing can win the championship,” Partain said. “So for us, just being the No. 1-ranked team, I honestly don’t even realize it. We’re just going in there one game at a time and looking to win one game at a time. That’s all we’re looking for.”

To get their tournament off to a good start, the Braves will have to get past Madras, one of five teams in the field that Banks has already played at least once this season. The Braves turned back the White Buffaloes 2-0 during the Sisters tournament in September, but the match was one of Banks’ closest of the season, as both sets were 25-22 scores.

The two squads also met in the consolation finals of the 2012 state tournament, with Banks sweeping that match to earn a third-place trophy.

Partain said that her team knows Madras’ strengths and weaknesses, and that the Braves have been working to improve on areas where they struggled when the teams met earlier this season, especially in the area of serve-receive.

Should the Braves advance, they would face the winner of the concurrent No. 4 Marshfield/No. 5 Valley Catholic quarterfinal at 8:30 p.m. on Friday with a berth in Saturday’s championship final at stake.

The Braves have not played Marshfield this season but they hammered Cowapa League newcomer Valley Catholic in both of their meetings.

On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 Sisters and No. 6 Crook County loom. The Outlaws are the only team to have bested the Braves so far this year, which they did with a 2-0 win in the final of that Sisters tournament. The Cowgirls, meanwhile, have won eight consecutive state titles, including the last four in Class 4A.

Banks swept Crook County at the beginning of the season, but after an 0-4 start, the Cowgirls have gone 14-1.

“Honestly, whatever team gets there, I will look forward to playing them,” Partain said. “If Crook County gets there, I would love to be the team that takes away the run from them.”

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