St. Helens will play Willamette on Friday afternoon as one of the four top seeds at the 5A volleyball tournament.
The St. Helens Lions have already completed their best season since 1989, but as the state championship tournament arrives, the Lions are still firmly in the title picture. Ranked second much of the season and third coming into the tournament, St. Helens is one of three teams to lead the title conversation. The first-rounds only upset saw No. 13 Bend knock No. 4 Cleveland from the bracket on Saturday evening, leaving West Albany, Churchill, St. Helens and Wilsonville as the favorites headed to the quarterfinals.
No. 1 West Albany
As the highest ranked team for nearly the entire year, the Bulldogs are the clear favorite to repeat their 2012 championship run. West Albany has lost only three matches, and a total of seven sets all of which were given up to Class 6A powerhouse teams. The two losses to top-ranked Central Catholic were close, with the Bulldogs falling 2-1 in each pool-play contest. In fact, West Albany was perfect in every game between their loss to the Rams on Sept. 7 and Oct. 12, a streak of 15 matches.
Like St. Helens, West Albany has some huge players up front. Senior Marandah Boeder, the Bulldogs 6-foot-2 middle blocker, highlights a list of five athletes over 5-foot-11. Its 6-foot junior Payton Rund who leads the Bulldogs on offense. She has averaged 14 kills through the teams 27 matches, impressive especially because most of those matches never went past three sets. With a little less than half the total attacks for the entire team combined, she is a major focal point of the offense.
West Albany will face No. 8 Corvallis in the quarterfinals, a team the Bulldogs beat twice in straight sets during the league season.
No. 2 Churchill
Its hard to compare anyone to West Albany, but like the Bulldogs, Churchill also finished the season having lost only seven sets. Their two losses came to No. 10 West Salem of the 6A division and No. 2 Crook County from Class 4A. Other than those two losses, both of which came during tournaments, the Lancers have dropped only three sets and only one in their last 13 matches. The streak came close to being broken during their first round match with Dallas, but the Lancers were able to button things up and win in straight sets. Much of Churchills success is due to the threat of senior Olivia Borden. She has the height, hops and strength to play much like St. Helens Gabby Susee – a nightmare for opposing defenses and attacking hitters.
Churchill will start the tournament against No. 9 Lebanon on Friday afternoon at 3:15 p.m.
No. 3 St. Helens
The Lions had about all they could handle in their first-round match with Mountain View, eventually winning in five sets. Both head coach Tom Ray and Libero Madison Kaplan said the adversity would serve as both motivation and positive experience heading into the tournament, when the pressure will ratchet up with each set.
The St. Helens attack is a little difficult to defend against. At first, the two biggest threats are hitters Taylor Albertson and Gabby Susee, and while the duo is good for much of the offense, its easy to forget about some of the other options. Sophomore Logan Kalauli is a dangerous hitter on the left side, and the offense doesnt slow down a bit when Susee steps off the floor from time to time.
The Lions will have a tough test on Friday afternoon, facing six-ranked Willamette at 3:15 p.m.
No. 5 Wilsonville
While the Wildcats might have a blemish or two on their record, theyre impossible to count out because of one thing: they were the only team in 2013 to take St. Helens to five sets and win. Wilsonville, who dropped a match to No. 10 Sherwood and an early-season match against St. Helens, have more experience in tight contests than any of the other teams in the top five. Whats more, the Wildcats are 4-0 when a match goes to five sets. Thats valuable, as the rest of the top-seeded teams have a combined 1-1 record (All St. Helens) in close matches.
Thanks to a loss from Cleveland, the Wildcats drew the easiest quarterfinal on paper. They will play No. 13 Bend at 3:15 p.m. on Friday afternoon.