Buffs fall in volleyball first round


by: BILLY GATES/THE PIONEER - Alexis Urbach (6) and Taylor Sjolund (3) react to a tipped ball as Keely Brown (11) makes a diving dig attempt during Friday night's Class 4A first-round volleyball match in Madras. Philomath advances to state quarterfinals in straight sets

The steady play of Philomath, coupled with too many unforced errors, wasn’t a good combination for the Madras High School volleyball team.

In the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs, the White Buffalos fell to the Warriors in three sets 25-15, 25-22, 25-20 on Friday night at the Buffalo Dome.

The loss eliminated the Buffs from further postseason play, and the Warriors will take on top-seeded Cascade in the 4A quarterfinals Friday at Lane Community College in Eugene.

A culmination of Philomath’s tremendous defense and sloppy offensive play by the Buffs was what spelled the outcome.

“Philomath did a good job, and they’re a great team,” Madras coach Rhea Cardwell said, “but if we controled our side a little better, this would have been a different match. We may not have won, but it would have been much different.”

The entire night it seemed when the Buffs would win a point, particularly with a kill from Alexis Urbach – who led the Buffs with 15 – an error would immediately follow, leaving the Buffs without momentum and confidence moving forward.

by: BILLY GATES/THE PIONEER - Madras' Karlee Simmons tries to block an attack during Friday night's first-round playoff loss to Philomath.Also, mistakes by the Buffs snowballed at times, with one miscue turning into four or five in a row.

As an example, Madras junior Keely Brown served up an ace to tie the first set of the match 9-9. Following the unreturned serve, Philomath went on an 11-1 run aided by five unforced Madras errors.

That stretch was the story of Madras’ night, unable to capitalize when given the chance and letting one mistake turn into several.

“There was no momentum at all,” Cardwell said. “We made errors at critical moments instead of building on those points and going on a run.”

The final set wasn’t without a little drama, however, as the Buffs put up a pretty good fight near the end of the set.

After cutting Philomath’s lead to 22-18, Urbach ended a furious, hustle-filled rally with a kill that seemed to provide a jolt of energy for the Buffs. They picked up another point on a Philomath error immediately following the rally to come within two, but that was as close as the Buffs came to the Warriors the rest of the match.

Perhaps the game’s longest, and certainly most entertaining, rally ended with the point going to Philomath following a kill by Courtney Croy to make the score 23-20. Both teams played tremendous defense during the point, and Philomath libero Tierra Stephenson had to dig two Urbach spikes that were absolutely crushed.

“We knew they played good defense coming into this,” Cardwell said of Philomath. “Their libero is really good, and their setter plays really good defense as well. But so did we.”

What it all boiled down to was Philomath didn’t make as many errors, plain and simple. They played as steady as could be with solid defense and timely offense. Mix that in without a bunch of errors, and there’s a winning volleyball team for the most part.

“Volleyball is a game of errors; when you make an error, the other team gets a point,” Cardwell said. “It’s that simple.”

Madras tied the second set at two different points, 15-15 and 16-16, but again the errors turned what could have been prime time for the Buffs to seize the set into more disappointment.

Philomath held set point in the second set at 24-19, but the Buffs were able to extend the set with three straight points. Urbach notched a kill and an ace to get the score to 24-21, and then Shelby Mauritson scored with a solo block kill.

The following point, however, went to Philomath on a Madras attacking error, and the set was over.

Urbach led the Buffs in kills, and Mauritson ended with 14 kills and 14 digs. Brown ended the match with 14 digs as well, and Elle Renault had 16 assists. Karlee Simmons chipped in 14 assists for the Buffs.

The season ended for the Buffs with a Tri-Valley Conference championship, their first outright since joining the TVC, and a 10-0 conference record.

While the team didn’t advance into the playoffs as far as last year’s team did, the Buffs will returne essentially the same squad, minus senior Cheyenne Duncan, next year.

So this season, Cardwell said, can serve as a year full of learning and adjusting to the new coach’s system.

“The girls were pretty down about losing, but learning from this will be a good thing,” Cardwell said. “The girls just have to suck it up and be tough. They need to realize they can make a difference next year.”

In her first year as the coach, Cardwell said the season overall was a success, and that preparation for next year begins right now.

“We’re going to encourage everyone to play club, especially if they aren’t playing basketball or other sports,” Cardwell said. “We’re going to start winter workouts in January, and continue those until the summertime when we start doing our camps and preseason training.”

It’s not just players that will be putting in offseason work, either. Cardwell said she and the coaching staff will go through film and attend coaching clinics leading up to next fall when the Buffs take the floor again.

“It’s hours and hours of analysis, and now it’s time when the coaches get coached,” Cardwell said. “As a coach, you have to keep learning all the time. If you aren’t learning as a coach, you’re a detriment to your team.”