The Bucks fall behind Country Christian 2-0, but roar back to life to earn the Casco Leagues top seed for the state playoffs

Despite battling to a 3-2 win over Portland Christian, the No. 6-ranked team in 2A, two days earlier, St. Paul did not look like the same team when it took the court against Country Christian in the Casco League district championship match Saturday at C.S. Lewis Academy.

The Bucks simply took too long to get warmed up in the first, then lost their focus and faded down the stretch to drop the second game, as well, after an injury temporarily forced powerful middle blocker Delaney Sump out of the SETH GORDON - District champs! -- Setter Kennedy Smith celebrates after dishing out 25 assists in St. Paul's come-from-behind victory over Country Christian in the Casco League district title game Saturday at C.S. Lewis Academy.

But the regular season Casco League champions quickly got into top gear in the third, then maintained control in the fourth and fifth to pull out a hard-earned 23-25, 20-25, 25-11, 25-18, 15-12 victory and add the district title to their resume.

“Everyone started playing like they can, we started finding their holes,” SPHS coach Lesli Hiller said. “It was just phenomenal leadership from my seniors. I can’t say anymore than that. Carolina (Ruvalcaba) and Jessica (Wilmes) were constantly getting people’s heads up, not letting anybody get down, not letting one point affect the rest of the game. I’m just very proud of them.”

The Bucks seemed out of rhythm in ceding the Cougars a 19-10 lead in the opening set, digging themselves too deep a hole to overcome, despite finishing on a 13-6 run.

The offense seemed to stall out without Sump in the second set, but with their backs against the wall, St. Paul was aggressive from the first point on in the third.

Everything seemed to round into shape, from passing to setting, which allowed Sump and fellow senior middle Sara Pierson to dominate at the net. The result was a streak of 13 consecutive points that turned the third into a rout.

“Both of our setters have just improved tremendously in the last few weeks,” Hiller said. “Everything’s clicking for them. It’s their first year setting varsity and everything has just finally gotten there. We’re just peaking at the right time, it’s just getting that good start.”

Country Christian did not give in during either the fourth or the fifth, but playing with greater confidence and poise, St. Paul never relinquished control and maintained a three or four-point cushion most of the way.

Sump finished with 18 kills and committed one error in 26 attempts to post an impressive .654 hitting percentage. Pierson added 12 kills of her own and also committed one attack error for a .524 average.

Kennedy Smith directed the offense to the tune of 25 assists, with Remy Brentano adding 10, while libero Cameron Stone was solid in the back row, amassing 19 digs.

Sump, Pierson and Stone were all named to the all-tournament team, joining C.S. Lewis superstar Mikaela Raudsepp and Country Christian teammates Miranda Halverson and Courtney McGrath.

“Sometimes it has taken us a while to get into the swing of the game,” Sump said.
“That’s something we’ll have to work on. We’ve only got four games left in the season, so we have to take it from the start. I’m glad we didn’t give up on ourselves and just kept pushing.”

The Bucks will host a second-round playoff game Saturday, but their opponent won’t be determined until the first-round games are completed, at which point the teams will be placed in the bracket according to OSAA ranking.

Ranked No. 6, St. Paul is likely on course to collide with unbeaten and No. 3-ranked Imbler in the state quarterfinals Nov. 8 in Redmond if they can win their second-round contest.

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