Wildcats prevail in five-set thriller in 5A first round

by: JEFF GOODMAN - Wilsonville juniors Kyra Austin (4) and Lexy Thompson form a block Nov. 2 against Crescent Valley in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs. The Wildcats prevailed in a five-set thriller at home.Call them comeback ’Cats. Call them cardiac ’Cats. Call them quarterfinalists.

The Wilsonville volleyball team emerged triumphant yet again after falling behind early, this time with its season on the line.

It pulled together to win the final two sets against Crescent Valley at home Nov. 2, capping a wild 3-2 (25-22, 17-25, 21-25, 25-20, 15-6) victory in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.

The Wildcats (16-4) won a playoff game for the first time since 2007 and advanced to the Nov. 8 quarterfinals at Liberty High School in Hillsboro, where they will face Bend at 1:15 p.m.

“This is kind of a big deal,” junior Lexy Thompson said. “The last two years, we didn’t make it anywhere near this far. It’s exciting.”

They accomplished the feat in their first meeting with Crescent Valley (12-9) since Nov. 4, 2006, when they swept the Raiders in a second-round match en route to placing third in the state finals.

Under first-year coach Kristen Rott, Wilsonville has come a long way since posting just five wins a year ago. But the Wildcats had to complete their comeback without Rott, who left midway through the fourth game for personal reasons.

“Knowing our coach had to step out, we were like, ‘We’ve gotta do this now,’” senior Rebecca Wenz said. “We just dug deep.”

With the final set tied at 3-3, Wilsonville engineered a decisive 10-1 run that included kills by junior Kyra Austin, junior Hailey Hayes, Wenz and Thompson, a block and crafty tip by Wenz, an ace by Hayes, another kill by Wenz and a kill by sophomore Madi Wardle that made it 13-4.

The Wildcats scored their final two points on a service error by Crescent Valley junior Emily Ashcraft and an attack error by the Raiders.

They are now a perfect 4-0 in five-set matches this season — they also needed five games to defeat Parkrose, Liberty and No. 3 St. Helens during league play — and they are undefeated on their home floor.

“We shouldn’t have to do the comeback thing every time — we should just stay ahead,” Thompson said. “But we do take pride in being a comeback team.”

Thompson finished with a team-high 16 kills, Wardle added 11 kills and two aces and Wenz contributed eight kills and two blocks. Hayes (six kills and three blocks), sophomore middle blocker Genna Florig (four kills, four blocks and three aces), Austin (three kills, two aces and two blocks) and sophomore libero Skyler Matthews also made key contributions for Wilsonville.

But before the Wildcats could rally for a victory in the fifth set, they had to ensure that the match would last that long.

Facing elimination after losing the second and third sets, they showed impressive resolve during a fourth set in which they never trailed. With the frame tied at 20-20, Wilsonville notched the final five points with a kill by Wardle, three-straight attack errors by the Raiders and a block by Austin.

“We’ve been working hard in practice on the little fundamental things,” Hayes said. “We just worked together, and we pulled through it.”

The entire match could have been summed up by the Wildcats’ comeback in the opening set. Trailing 13-7, they capped an 11-5 run on a kill by Wardle, took their first lead of the frame at 19-18 on a kill by Thompson and held on for a 25-22 decision.

“Coach will call a timeout, and everyone’s like, ‘C’mon. We’ve got it,’” Wardle said. “Then everyone gets fired up.”

The second set, however, was disastrous for Wilsonville. It surrendered the first 11 points and fell behind 17-3 before making the game respectable. Florig capped a 9-3 run with an ace to bring the Wildcats within 20-13, but their early deficit proved too large in a 25-17 setback.

“That was bad,” Wardle said. “It was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. What’s happening right now? This isn’t us.’”

Added Wenz: “We could have just kissed the rest of our season goodbye. We were definitely questioning ourselves, and we didn’t feel confident. We just hesitated a lot. Sometimes it seemed like we didn’t think we could do it.”

Wilsonville’s prospects looked even dimmer after the third set. Holding an early 10-5 advantage, Rott’s team ceded nine of the next 10 points and lost its lead for good on an attack error at 12-11.

The Wildcats pulled even at 16-16 on an attack error by Crescent Valley, but they stumbled down the stretch and gave up a kill to Raiders senior Malie Rube on the final play of a 25-21 loss.

“Our biggest thing is, when we get down, start getting mad, start yelling at each other and get in our heads, we make the errors,” Hayes said. “When we’re up and we trust what we do, and trust each other, we’re fine. We just pick each other up.”

Wilsonville regrouped after the third set. It never trailed the rest of the way.

“The fourth game is when we really realized it’s a do-or-die moment,” Wenz said. “It would’ve been the first loss of the season at home, and I don’t think we were gonna take it.”

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