Contributed photo/Jeremy Lanthorn
South Wasco County volleyball players posted sweeps over Sherman and Dufur at Saturday’s Big Sky Conference District Tournament played in Moro to claim their first-ever district championship. In the photo are, from left to right, Jacqueline Noland, Emily Ellis, Jade McCoy, Madisen Davis, Ana Popchock, Jada Myers, Kyrsten Sprouse, Jenna Wraught, Laurynn Davis, Reese Millis and Allie Noland.
MORO – After a 20-win campaign and a No. 2 seed at last season’s Big Sky Conference, the short-handed Lady Redsides were dispatched from postseason contention with back-to-back sweep losses.
Saturday in Moro, No. 8-ranked South Wasco County was singing a redemption song following sweeps of Sherman and Dufur on its way to its first-ever volleyball district championship.
The past few years have been quite the journey for head coach Donna Barton and her veteran group, but as the cheers cascaded through a full gymnasium, Barton called this accomplishment satisfying for herself and the roster of three seniors, four juniors and four underclassmen.
“I am most happy that people got to see the real team play,” Barton said. “We played like that versus Crosshill Christian earlier this year at Trinity Lutheran High School and I was glad to see it again. It tells me that when something is on the line, they will bring it, and let the chips fall where they may.”
In the district championship contest against Dufur, SWC (23-8 overall, 6-1 league) served at 92 percent and added 29 kills on 75 of 84 swings in a 25-17, 25-15, 25-9 three-set sweep.
Of their 67 of 73 serve conversion rate, Jacqueline Noland was a perfect 21 for 21, and teammate Allie Noland added a 16 of 16 effort.
Jada Myers led the net attack with a team-leading nine kills on 21 of 25 attempts, Allie Noland finished 13 for 13 for seven kills, and Kyrsten Sprouse was good for four kills on 15 for 16.
Barton credited the team’s serve-receive and defense, led by Madisen Davis, Myers, Sprouse and Ana Popchock, and Barton added that Allie and Jacqueline Noland played great defense also and set very well.
“I thought we played really well today,” Barton said. “As a group, we had been working on keeping our unforced errors down to a minimum and I thought we did a good job of that. Combined with excellent serving, talking and moving, we played together for a total team win.”
For the Lady Rangers (13-10, 6-1), Chloe Beeson totaled four kills, three aces and six digs, Alexus Outlaw chipped in eight kills and a pair of digs, and Haili Wolf-DePriest had a kill, an ace and five digs.
Mikayla Kelly notched an ace, a kill, three blocks and a dig, and both Sydnee Byers and Aleksei Uhalde posted two digs each.
Dufur missed on six serves and also had 20 kill errors.
“The girls were having an off day at the net. They were making attempts at kills, but it wasn’t working out,” said Dufur head coach Kristin Whitley. “We wanted a district championship badly, but it just wasn’t our day. It was a reminder that when things aren’t working, the girls have to stay mentally focused and invested in the game. They can’t give up, and have to fight back.”
The Lady Rangers are two sub-round wins away from earning a berth to state in Redmond next week, but Whitley was happy to see her team perform well on the big stage with everything on the line.
“It was a good reminder for the girls that the games that we are about to play during the state playoffs are going to be the most challenging that we have played all season,” Whitley said.
Coming off a 15-win campaign and a second state sub-round qualification in 2016, Outlaw and the Lady Rangers had a new coach in Whitley bringing in a new philosophy and mindset this fall with Beeson, Wolf-DePriest and Outlaw as the senior veterans leading the group.
Dufur responded with 13 wins, a 6-1 league record and a district runner-up outcome for the second straight season.
There is a lot more at stake for the Ranger seniors.
“It is very rewarding for myself and the other seniors to make it this far this year,” Outlaw said. “The team has grown in so many ways, physically and mentally. Our coaches have us work out every day and it has really pushed us to be better physically. The team has put their heart and soul into this season and we’re not ready to give up now.”