Sunset climbs into contention by beating Southridge in five games
by: MILES VANCE, APOLLO ATTACK — Sunset’s Laura Stanulis smashes a kill over the attempted block of Southridge’s Kelsey Oppat during the Apollos’ five-game victory at Sunset High School last Thursday night.

CEDAR MILL - Step by step, the Sunset volleyball team is taking the steps it needs to become a good team.

The Apollos took another step in that progression, perhaps the most important one of the season, last Thursday when the Apollos knocked off 14th-ranked Southridge 25-15, 25-22, 20-25, 21-25, 16-14 at Sunset High School. The win, along with the Apollos' 25-16, 25-10, 25-18 loss to Jesuit on Tuesday, moved Sunset to 4-3 and third place in Metro League play.

'It was a huge one for our program,' said Sunset coach Lad Salness. 'We've got two returning players … and then a bunch of kids who played a bunch of JV ball. They're just learning how to win, learning how to win in the big leagues.'

Southridge, meanwhile, beat Aloha 25-17, 25-13, 25-14 on Tuesday, took its record to 5-2 and kept sole possession of second place in the Metro League. With three rounds of Metro play remaining, it appears likely that the Apollos and Skyhawks will finish in a tie for second place, a fact that made last week's loss to Sunset even more painful.

'We definitely came out a little flat,' said Southridge coach Brooke Mayo. 'We were really expecting to come out here with a lot more energy and focus on the game.'

After splitting the first four games of the night, the Apollos and Skyhawks made game five a keeper, too, with Sunset racing out to a 5-2 lead on three Jennifer Jorgensen kills and two from Laura Stanulis. The Skyhawks rallied to tie the game at 5-5 on a Sunset hitting error, and the two teams battled tooth and nail the rest of the way.

The Apollos answered with four of the game's next five points to lead 9-6 on Sam Gatzke's kill, but the Skyhawks got even at 9-9 on two straight service points by Catie Logan, and the two teams forged ties at 11-11, 12-12 and, finally, at 14-14 on Southridge libero Jessica Nguyen's return.

But Jorgensen scored a kill to push her team ahead at 15-14, and after Karina Dracott's serve, Jorgensen came through again for the 16-14 victory and match win.

'We picked it up at the end and we all started cheering more, believing in each other,' Jorgensen explained of her team's fifth-game resurgence. 'I think we all just worked together more (in game five).'

'We're young still, but our kids are learning to win,' Salness said. 'They've been in tight spots before and they're just starting to figure it out.'

For Southridge, the Skyhawks promised to take their Thursday loss as a learning tool.

'When we got down, that's when we separated, fell apart. That's how we lost,' said Southridge junior outside hitter Megan Pollitt. 'We just have to not think about it - it's all mental.'

'Even though we try not to focus on (the other team's) score, it was a little bit of a hurdle,' Mayo said of the fifth-game loss. We 'just got a little tentative.'

Sunset burst out of the gates with two straight wins at the start of last week's match, scoring the last four points of game one to win 25-15, getting a Jorgensen kill, an ace from Dracott and a tip from Gatzke in that stretch.

Southridge began to rally in game two, however, and led 5-0 before Sunset tied the score at 5-5, and after that, neither team led by more than four points the rest of the way. The Apollos saw a late 23-20 lead cut to 23-22 on an ace by Southridge's Ali Lefebvre, but Sunset's Laura Stanulis notched a kill off the Southridge block and a Skyhawk hitting error ended the game.

Game three was, perhaps, the best battle of the night, featuring 13 ties and two lead changes and no clear advantage until the Skyhawks scored seven of the game's final nine points. In that span, which took an 18-18 game and turned it into a 25-20 Southridge win, Amber Manthe collected four kills and Nguyen notched the game-winner on an ace.

Southridge started fast in game four, grabbing a 7-2 lead behind two Cindy Chen kills, but saw Sunset battle back to tie the score at 10-10 behind two Jorgensen aces and two Amanda Hoffman kills. And the Apollos stayed close too, even at 16-16 before the Skyhawks pulled away to win 25-21 with Pollitt collecting five kills down the stretch.

'I think we just lost intensity a little bit' in games three and four, Jorgensen said. 'We stopped being able to pass or receive very well.'

'In that third game, we went back to our starting lineup and they fixed it,' Mayo said. 'We went back to that lineup and said 'You can do it' and they went out there and did it.'

'Our passing, the (defensive specialists), they carried the team a lot,' Pollitt said of her team's success in the third and fourth games. And 'our libero, Jessica (Nguyen), she pushed a lot and just played great ball.'

In upcoming matches, Southridge hosts Westview at 7 p.m. tonight (Thursday), plays in the West Linn Tournament on Saturday and plays at Beaverton at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Sunset hosts Beaverton at 7 p.m. tonight, and plays at Aloha at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

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