Forest Grove keeps pace in the league volleyball standings

Halfway through Pacific Conference play, the Forest Grove volleyball team is right where it wants to be — in the thick of it.

Thanks to a balanced attack led by Mary Hutchins and Shelby Turner-Thurman, the Lady Vikings scored a 25-19, 25-13, 25-20 home victory against Hillsboro last Thursday to stay in the heat of the conference race.

Posting its third win in four league matches, Forest Grove upped its overall record to 5-4 and its league record to 4-2. That latter mark was good for a tie for second place with McMinnville heading into the final round of the first half of league play. Newberg (10-1, 6-0) sat atop the league standings heading into Tuesday’s matches.

“I think things went well. I think we definitely executed our game plan, which is huge for us,” Forest Grove coach Nicole Miles said. “It was really encouraging to see the girls try some plays that we’ve been working on in practice and actually try and implement them in the games.”

Thursday’s victory was also notable because with it, Forest Grove has already matched its conference win total from the 2012 season. And though the Spartans (0-8, 0-6) entered the contest still looking for their first victory of the season, they were a tougher opponent than their record might suggest.

Though Forest Grove led by as many as 10 points in the first game, Hillsboro rallied to tighten things up to 24-19 late in the set. The Spartans also took leads in the second and third games before the Vikings rallied to seize control in each case.

“We definitely came as a team, and we definitely won that way,” junior outside hitter Bryanna Hanson said. “We didn’t win by our skill as much as we did by winning as a team.”

In the first set, Forest Grove raced out to 20-10 and 23-13 advantages, but a kill by Kaylee Rodriguez, two balls hit out of bounds by the Vikings and a kill from Rachel Woodall trimmed the margin to 23-17 for the Spartans. Amber Kolln coaxed the ball to drop on the second touch for Forest Grove to put a point away, and after two more points by Hilhi, the Vikings earned the first game victory with a kill.

The tables were turned early in the second game, when the Spartans led by as many as five points after jumping to a 9-4 lead on a kill by Woodall. But the Vikings answered with a 7-0 run to surge ahead, thanks in part to kills by Turner-Thurman and Hutchins and an ace by Hanson. The home side then closed out the game with a 14-4 run to take a daunting 2-0 lead into the third game.

That final set was tight throughout and featured several long, entertaining rallies. Neither team led by more than four points, and though the Spartans stayed in the game with a number of timely digs, Forest Grove’s greater firepower eventually won out.

The Vikings tied the game at 19-all when Hanson went cross-court for a kill and took the lead for good on the next point when Hilhi could not make a play on the ball. Forest Grove closed out the contest on a 5-1 run that included kills from Hutchins, Hanson and Sarah Hess. Turner-Thurman, who had 10 kills in the match, sealed the victory with an ace.

“When we talk a lot, we tend to just play so well together,” said Hutchins, who led Forest Grove with 10 kills and seven digs. “We just always come in after every point ... and you can just tell we have so much energy, and I feel like that’s when we’re grooving and just playing really well.”

Amanda Horne had four kills from the right side for Forest Grove, and Kolln contributed 14 assists.

Forest Grove was slated to take on Tigard on the road on Tuesday (after press deadline). The Tigers sat at 3-3, just a game behind the Lady Vikings in the conference standings, entering the match.

Forest Grove opens up the second half of the conference slate at Tualatin on Thursday, followed by a match against McMinnville next Tuesday.

“I think with Century not being the dominating force we’ve seen in the past years, it’s left the field kind of wide open,” Miles said of the conference title race. “It’s kind of wide open at this point.”

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