Skyhawks, Crusaders volleyball in tight race for Metro League championship
For the last decade or so, the ending to the Metro League volleyball championship hunt carried a feeling of inevitability.
It was Jesuit's world and the rest of Metro was just doing anything it could to survive and create a nuanced nook of its own.
The Crusaders came, saw, ruled and ultimately conquered. Three-set sweeps were commonplace. Blowouts were twice-a-week occurrences. It was a stretch to see any Metro match last more than an hour or so. During the regular season, one could pencil in Jesuit as the prohibitive favorite and essentially send them to the Class 6A semifinals without the slightest hesitation.
Jesuit's all-mighty reign was relentless with Division One players who put their egos aside in the name of winning championships and becoming something greater than themselves.
Last year was much of the same — until the 6A state tournament rolled around. Trailing 2-0 heading into the third set, Sunset pulled off what was one of the more unlikely upsets in state history, winning three straight sets with a mix of poise, tenacity, togetherness and mental toughness that few teams in recent memory have been able to execute against Jesuit.
Yes, it wasn't a Metro game — it was much bigger than that, with higher stakes, on a far grander scale playing out on the state stage. What the Apollos did was create a sense of league-wide hope, that Jesuit was human and beatable on the right day, that Southridge, Westview, Aloha or any Metro school for that matter could achieve what they did that November day. And, sure enough, two games into this season Southridge knocked off Jesuit in five sets at the Knight Center, exhibiting the size, athletic ability, defensive aptitude and skill level to stay right with the still-stacked Crusaders.
Jesuit isn't going anywhere, of course. But the Skyhawks are certainly a worthy foil for the umpteenth-time Metro champs. And with teams like Sunset, Aloha, Westview, Glencoe and company improving, Metro should be competitive again.
"Jesuit and Sunset will still be the teams to beat as they always have solid programs not only varsity but all the way down to JV2," Southridge head coach Carol Lambert said. "Glencoe had a terrific year last year as well and always are very solid. We are setting our goals to be in the hunt at the end of league play to be in a position to possibly win the league. There is a lot of volleyball that needs to happen between now and then and we have a lot of work to do in the gym to put ourselves in the best position possible."
"Jesuit and Sunset always have strong teams every year but I believe that Southridge will give both of those teams a run for their money for a league title this year," Westview head coach Janelle Brandt said. "They are very strong offensively and have a bunch of height at the net. I think that Glencoe will be tough in the league again and there could be a battle for the top-four places in the league. You can't overlook anyone this year."
"There are several strong teams in the Metro League," Jesuit head coach Teresa Zimmerlee said.
Following are previews for the Beaverton-area Metro League volleyball teams for the 2017 season.
New head coach Katy Wilson takes over a Warrior team with one of the league's best young players in Izzy Szulczewski and a strong starting lineup.
"Izzy is our top all-around player," Wilson said. "She was second-team all-Metro last year and we will be seeing a lot of great things from her this year in the front row as well as the back row."
Senior middle blockers Sadie Alloway and Shya Phillips, junior setter Leina Belog, sophomore outside hitter/right side Sara Vanaken will be regulars in the starting lineup while senior libero Marin Garcia and junior libero Kote Manley will rotate into the starting rotation depending on the game, according to Wilson.
Alloway and Szulczewski will be Aloha's highly featured and frequented sources of offense on a team that wants to make the 6A postseason.
"Sadie is a huge part of our offense," Wilson said. "She is a great player and leader for our team. Our goal is to be fourth in the league as we have a pretty tough league with a lot of top finishers in our league."
After a rocky start to the season, the Beavers seemed to right themselves a bit by beating St. Helens and Cleveland at the Lakeridge tournament on Sep. 16.
The Beavers took a set off of Jesuit and took Liberty to five games on Sep. 12 under new head coach Rebecca Harper. Seniors JJ Tofi, Morgan Presson, Tatum McCuen, Kenzie Moore, Lauren Wissmiller, Erika Mosely and Cara Chenoweth head a seven-player senior class. Sophomores Carly Cundari, Lola Bunn, Maya Bedell and junior Mackenzie Ososke will see time as will Lauren Wilborn, who made the varsity squad as a freshman.
The Crusaders lost five all-Metro players off last year's 29-1 team that finished fourth at the state tournament, but the defending league champs don't seem to have a lost much of a step.
Watch out for junior Rose Booth, an all-around starter with a variety of attacking strengths and defensive ability, according to Zimmerlee. Junior libero Erin Foley covers the court well with solid passing and digging abilities. Junior Alyssa Hughes "looks good in the middle both blocking and attacking," according to Zimmerlee.
Outside hitter Megan Griffin, all-around Brooke Olson, Lauren McCabe at middle blocker, all-around junior Lizzie Stegemoller and senior defensive specialist Chloe Golik will "definitely" have major roles in this season's matches, Zimmerlee said. Jesuit's setters are freshman Peyton Griffin and senior Jenny Martin. Sophomores Molly Piszczek and Ally Dean and freshmen Maddie Dowdall and Ellie Thorstenson will all see time in the rotation as well.
"We will be competitive and challenge the other teams in the league and state," Zimmerlee said.
Brown and Booth are both destined for big seasons but don't forget about Sunset junior sensation Sophie Summers.
The lengthy, springy Sunset star is a force at middle blocker but she, like her Metro counterparts, can play all six rotations, no sweat. The University of Washington commit can take over a game, killing the ball or blocking shots at the net. Her hops, long limbs and athletic coordination are superb.
Admittedly, the Apollos lost a lot of the team that executed the Jesuit heist at the state tourney a season ago.
Yet, junior Paige Monaghan is a great setter who ran the show for head coach Lad Salness' high-powered offense last year. Junior Ellie Mead is a multi-sport standout. Junior Aria DeLaRosa factored into the rotation as a sophomore and should play a bigger role as a middle blocker/outside hitter.
The sky is the limit for what the Skyhawks can accomplish this year.
Blessed with height and athleticism in seniors Natalie Hoff, Danielle Christensen, junior Teddy Batinkova and sophomore Cameron Brink, Southridge picked up arguably the 6A boon of the season in Chloe Brown, a senior transfer from Westside Christian. Brown, a verbal commit to the University of Miami, has hit the ground running.
"She is our top player, a six-rotation player that will bring explosive offense as well as excellent passing and defense," Lambert said. "Chloe arguably could be the top outside hitter in 6A this year."
Southridge also sports several all-league players coming back with Hoff, (first-team all-Metro) who is another six-rotation player playing outside.
"Natalie proved that she is a serious threat on the outside with her hitting and blocking last year," Lambert said.
The Skyhawks have "extremely solid setting" with Lindsey Lambert, a first-team All-Metro as a sophomore, and Cara McClean, a second-team all-Metro pick as a junior.
"Both are able to set a very fast offense and audible offense that is able to keep the defense off balance," Lambert said. "They both have run the offense their entire careers at Southridge and know these hitters very well."
Brink was an immediate impact player last year as a freshman middle blocker and continues to get experience and reps that is only helping her become even more of a force, according to Lambert.
"Her height at 6-4 and athleticism and competitiveness is very apparent and her upside on the volleyball court is only beginning to be tapped," Lambert said.
The Skyhawks were on the outside looking in on the state tournament after losing to Jesuit in the second round last year. A league title and top-five state finish would be a big boost in helping Southridge return to the tourney and set themselves up for a state crown.
"The goal for this team is to better last year's finish," Lambert said. We have a very strong and experienced returning roster and with the addition of Chloe Brown, we hope to compete for the Metro League title. We have finished third and fourth the last two years and we hope to better those finishes."
Brandt made the move across 185th avenue from Aloha to Westview, bringing her youthful exuberance and positive energy to a Wildcat squad that the new head coach believes can compete in Metro.
Westview finished in sixth place last season and has "only gotten stronger all-around," Brandt said.
The Wildcats have eight seniors and a core group of seven varsity players returning as well as some talented junior outside hitters to the roster this year.
"I believe we have a shot at finishing in the top half of the league this year," Brandt said. "The girls all work very well together, there is new energy and leadership within the program and I think we will surprise some people as the season goes on. The key to our success this year will be defense and ball control. We will put a lot of emphasis on being defensively strong and playing smart offensively taking it one match at a time."
Senior setter/right side hitter Taylor Overn is a fourth-year varsity player who was a third-team All-Metro all-around selection last season.
"Taylor is one of our team captains and a great team leader by her skills as a setter/hitter and her varsity experience," Brandt said. "She will be a dominant leader for us running our offense and she has made great improvements in her all-around play in the front-row offensively as well. Taylor is a great role model for her teammates and for our underclassmen in the program. She has a great work ethic, her teammates look up to her, she leads by example and is a vocal leader for us on the court. :
Senior Ireland Resnick is Westview's returning libero, who Brandt said should step up in a much bigger role leading Westview's back row defensively.
"She is one of the most competitive players on the team, shines defensively and will play a significant part in our serve receive passing," Brandt said.
Junior middle blocker Seraiah Ochse has gotten stronger each year and gives the Wildcats "a big block", Brandt said.
"She will be one of our go-to hitters for us in the front row," Brandt said. "She is a tireless worker improving her all-around play."