Buffs complete unblemished league season against Molalla

After claiming a share of the Tri-Valley Conference title last season, the Madras High School volleyball team got tired of sharing.

In a raucous 5-set match in Milwaukie, the White Buffalos clinched the league title outright with a 3-2 win against La Salle on Thursday.

Set scores were 20-25, 25-17, 13-25, 28-26, 15-11.

First-year Madras coach Rhea Cardwell said the strides her team has made in mental toughness was the key to rebounding from an awful third set to win the next two, which secured the conference championship.

“If this kind of match happened earlier in the season, I think we would have lost in three sets,” Cardwell said. “But the girls have come so far with their mental toughness and approach. We started to take advantage of La Salle’s weak moments, and we kept the focus on what we did on our side of the court.”

Cardwell said she has been having a mental coach come in and work with the team, and she said it has paid off.

“That’s the type of training you can never get enough of, especially at this point in the season,” Cardwell said.

As soon as the Buffs captured the fourth set in dramatic fashion, Cardwell knew her team would win the match, whether she was using logic, her heart or a little bit of both.

“Statistically speaking, the team who wins the fourth set wins the fifth about 90 percent of the time,” Cardwell said. “We had 100 percent confidence in our game, and I thought if we scored the first five points of the set, they couldn’t stop us.”

The match started to break down in the third set for the Buffs due to unforced errors, Cardwell said. But following the end of the set, Cardwell got her team in the huddle between sets and reminded them what they needed to do.

And then, the Buffs executed the plan and turned the match on its head.

“We just talked about that if we make an error, it doesn’t mean we have to make three more,” Cardwell said. “In the fourth set, we came out great, and we played great defense.”

Defense is something Cardwell has stressed all year, but heading into the postseason she has placed an even bigger emphasis on it. The Buffs have the firepower offensively to play with just about anybody in 4A, but the evolution of the team’s defensive play is what will carry them through the postseason, she said.

“Being able to keep the ball off the ground is what wins championships,” Cardwell said. “If we keep sending it back over the net, eventually the other team is going to make a mistake.”

Four Buffs — Shelby Mauritson, Alexis Urbach, Keely Brown and Taylor Sjolund — combined for 81 digs on the night, with Brown leading the defensive charge with 22. Setters Elle Renault and Karlee Simmons each notched eight digs as well, so that’s nearly six players on the team with double-digit dig totals, which made the coach pretty happy.

“We had a ton of long rallies, and just played outstanding defense,” Cardwell said. “It really picked up in this match, and it’s something we’re going to continue to hammer on the rest of the season.”

With the win against La Salle, the Buffs moved to 9-0 in the Tri-Valley Conference and 11-10 overall. The only team that stands in the way of a perfect TVC season is Molalla, which the Buffs played Tuesday night at home. The result wasn’t available by the Pioneer’s press deadline.

On Tuesday, the Buffs hammered North Marion 25-8, 25-11, 25-5.

The Buffs racked up 20 aces, and were led by Mauritson’s 13 kills.

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