Wildcats go winless in first quarterfinals since 2007

by: GREG ARTMAN - Wilsonville sophomore Madi Wardle rises up at the net during the Class 5A state volleyball tournament Nov. 8-9 at Liberty High School in Hillsboro. The Wildcats came away without a trophy after four-set losses to Bend and Corvallis.HILLSBORO — Maybe it had to do with a pressure-filled atmosphere that was unfamiliar to the Wilsonville volleyball team. Perhaps it was because the Wildcats had to prepare for the program’s first state tournament in six years without their head coach, who gave birth two months before her due date.

Whether due to nerves, tough competition or a combination of the two, fifth-seeded Wilsonville wasn’t at its best on the biggest stage and finished its season without a trophy at the Class 5A championships Nov. 8-9 at Liberty High School.

“It (stinks) to lose,” senior Rebecca Wenz said. “But it’s the first time I’ve been to the state tournament, and since it’s been so long since we’ve been here as a team, it’s really nice. I’m not taking anything for granted.”

The Wildcats (16-6) advanced to the quarterfinals after topping Corvallis-Crescent Valley in a five-set comeback thriller at home Nov. 2, but they couldn’t muster similar magic in their final two matches of the year against Bend and Corvallis.

First-year coach Kristen Rott, who left the first-round match before it ended, delivered a baby boy the next day to cap a frightening 31-week pregnancy.

Her son has needed continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) in the neonatal intensive care unit at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland but is doing well, she said.

Rott attended her team’s Nov. 7 practice, leaving most of the week’s preparation to junior varsity coach Jamie Schuknecht.

“It’s like something you’d see in the movies,” Rott said of the particularly stressful timing. “Everyone’s like, ‘Just take care of yourself, take care of the baby,’ but you still have responsibilities. I’m still a teacher, and the (volleyball) girls are still practicing. And I wasn’t there, so I take a huge ton of the responsibility.”

Rott was there Nov. 8 for her team’s quarterfinal match against 13th-seeded Bend, but Wilsonville made a few too many errors and came away with a disappointing 3-1 (25-21, 19-25, 25-22, 25-21) loss.

Wenz had a team-high 12 kills, junior outside hitter Lexy added 11 kills and four aces and sophomore Genna Florig contributed seven kills and four aces.

In the first set, the Wildcats jumped out to a 7-2 lead on an ace by Kyra Austin and held a 19-15 edge after an attack error by the Lava Bears (13-11).

But Bend tied it at 19-19 on a kill by junior Callie Kruska, pulled ahead at 22-21 and capped a 10-3 run on a tip by junior Cassidy Wheeler to close the frame.

“The girls haven’t been here before, and they’re at a point where they’re still trying to learn to be mature players,” Rott said. “They’re absolutely talented, but if you can’t do it when it matters — that’s that huge hump that teams across the state have to figure out how to get over.”

Wilsonville appeared in trouble again in the second set, ceding the first seven points, but it responded by stringing together an 11-1 run and maintained control the rest of the way.

Leading 22-19, the Wildcats scored the final three points on two well-placed kills by junior setter Hailey Hayes and a set-clinching spike by Austin. Hayes earned a spot on the all-tournament second team.

“Girls were saying they were nervous — it’s a big tournament,” Wenz said. “But after we got over that initial apprehensiveness, we improved and figured out what we had to do to be successful in our second set.”

Wilsonville was competitive in a back-and-forth third set, but it came up short in a frame that featured 12 ties. With the score locked at 21-21, Bend took a two-point lead on kills by Wheeler and junior Alexa Evert. The Wildcats pulled to within 23-22 on a ball-handling error by the Lava Bears, but they yielded the final two points on a service error and attack error.

“It’s an emotional time, and it’s a tournament,” Rott said. “If you’re not disciplined, that’s what’s going to happen.”

Facing defeat in the fourth set, Wilsonville built up a 9-5 lead on a kill by Wenz and clutched a 16-14 edge on a kill by Florig.

But after Thompson’s kill tied the frame at 20-20, the Wildcats committed four errors as Bend prevailed with a 25-21 decision.

“We just made a few too many errors, and that cost us,” Wenz said. “We tried our best, but the errors came up.”

The loss sent Wilsonville into a consolation contest against Corvallis (15-8), which posted a 3-1 (25-10, 20-25, 25-14, 25-18) victory Nov. 9.

The Wildcats did not earn a chance to compete for their fourth trophy in program history. They placed fourth in 2000, third in 2006 and fourth in 2007.

“All around, it was a hard week,” Wenz said. “But I had fun. My team is amazing.”

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