Pioneers battling for last remaining playoff spot

by: KRISTOPHER ANDERSON - Sandy sophomore Alex Forded the team with 13 kills in a straight-sets victory over Milwaukie last Thursday.

A valiant late-season push, highlighted by a win over the 10th ranked team in the state, has vaulted the Sandy volleyball team into contention for one of the final 5A postseason spots. The top 24 teams qualify for the play-in round, and as of Tuesday afternoon (before their Tuesday match against Wilsonville), the Pioneers are ranked 26 with two matches remaining.

“The last couple of matches the kids have played so loose and so well,” Sandy coach Chris Meyers says. “They’re starting to believe in themselves, and it shows.”

Being in the playoff hunt is an achievement, given Sandy’s lackluster 2011 season in which it finished 2-15 and ranked 31 (Sandy did qualify for the play-in round, but that was before it was condensed in the off-season).

But the Pioneers’ performance in their final stretch of games has been the most impressive part of this season.

As of Tuesday, they’re riding a four-game winning streak, something Meyers says “hasn’t been around here for a really long time.”

Just as unfamiliar has been defeating a highly ranked team, something Sandy finally achieved last week.

In a 3-1 win over 10th-ranked Liberty last Tuesday at Sandy High School, the Pioneers displayed the reassurance and resiliency Meyers credits for this late-season run.

After leading 23-18, Sandy dropped a tightly contested first set, 25-23. But in the second set there were no signs of trepidation or feelings of defeat. The Pioneers only got better.

“There was never a time where I saw in my players that they thought they were going to lose,” Meyers says. “It’s just that confidence, and they’re starting to understand that if we just relax and play, we’re OK. We can overcome people making runs at us. We can overcome whatever happens. We’re good enough.”

by: KRISTOPHER ANDERSON - Kayla Anderson finished with five aces.

They responded with commanding wins in the next two sets, 25-17, 25-18. And when things were contested again in the fourth set, Sandy emerged the victor, 27-25, and won the match, 3-1.

“It’s been a really long time ... since the girls have earned a win like that,” Meyers says. “That was huge. There’s no other way to say it. That’s one of the games that’s really going to show for us during the rest of the season. It will help us.

“We played such good defense, and we just played steady. We didn’t have any of the roller coaster stuff.”

On a team with only two seniors, younger players have been leading the charge.

Outside hitter Alex Ford, who received an all-league honor last season as a freshman, has continued to thrive as a sophomore. And against Liberty, she led Sandy with 15 kills.

Junior outside hitter Kayla Anderson added seven kills, and so did sophomore middle blocker Bekah Mather, who Meyers says has improved tremendously this season.

“She’s an absolute stud in the middle for us right now,” he adds. “She’s figured out what to do at the net. She has a great idea of what she wants to do with the ball when she goes up to hit.

“She is playing with a tremendous amount of confidence right now. And she really has given us that middle threat that has been missing for a while here.”

From the setter position, junior Kenzie Nolin had 16 assists, while sophomore Bella Bryant added 15.

Looking at the way this year started, the Pioneers struggled just to win a set. Their first six losses came by a combined score of 17-1, but Meyers insisted he saw promise. His players just needed to play with a certain mindset.

Now, in the final week of the regular season, Meyers insists his team has discovered that mindset.

And if they reach the play-in round, it won’t be a moment too soon.

“You have to get there to learn how to do it,” Meyers says. “We were getting there. It was just that learning process, and now that’s what they’ve learned. And, to me, that’s what shows the most.

“They’re showing me what I believed in them all along. Since day one of this year, since day one of last year, what I believed we had in this program was the talent and the ability.

“What it means to me is that they’re proving me right, and I’m so proud of them for what they’re doing.”

Sports and news reporter Kristopher Anderson can be reached by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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