Banks girls blank Astoria and Seaside to complete an unblemished record in Cowapa League play

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: AMANDA MILES - Banks junior Alyssa Chung (4) celebrates with teammates Taylor Herb and MaKenna Partain during last Tuesday's three-set sweep of Astoria in Cowapa League volleyball action. The Banks volleyball team just keeps achieving new heights of excellence.

The Braves have earned several state trophies in recent seasons, including Class 4A runner-up hardware in 2010. Last fall, they finally toppled Astoria for a Cowapa League championship.

And last week? Last week was special, too. In its final home match of the regular season, Banks pulled out a tight first game 25-23 against Astoria and then stomped the Fishermen 25-14, 25-12 to clinch the league title. Two days later, the Braves obliterated Seaside 25-4, 25-4, 25-6 to complete an outstanding accomplishment — winning every league match this season by a 3-0 score.

“Even though we’d had success at state in the past ... we’d never had a league title until last year, so that was something that was cool for those girls to have that was all their own,” Banks co-coach Suzanne Alley noted after the Astoria contest. “And then this year, these girls get to have a back-to-back league title all their own.”

Though the Braves (20-4) have once again stepped up to the bar, Alley and co-coach Diana Herb were not exactly sure going into the season — or even partway through — what kind of squad they had. After graduating four seniors from last year’s third-place state tournament team, Banks had some holes to fill, including at outside hitter.

And they are still relatively young — of the 12 players on the varsity roster, half are underclassmen, and Taylor Herb and Molly Hammond are the only seniors.

So Banks suffered through some growing pains. In late September, the team went 1-1 in the Sisters Tournament, dropping an 0-2 decision to the host school. It was Banks’ third loss to a quality opponent in the young season and moved the squad’s record to 8-3.

“We didn’t really have a great tournament and we just didn’t play with that drive and that fire,” Alley recalled. “We kind of had some tough talk at that tournament and then after. They’ve really taken it on. They take a lot of responsibility.”

Though they are just sophomores, outside hitter MaKenna Partain and middle blocker Megan Bunn are perhaps two of the bigger names on the team. But Banks hardly starts or ends with them. Alley noted how valuable defensive specialists Herb, Hannah VanDomelen and JoJo Wren have been, sometimes even carrying the team, she said. And freshman Mary Schorn has stepped in to take that outside hitting role.

“I was in her position last year,” Partain said. “I know how hard it is to be a freshman and play outside hitter ... and she’s stepped up big-time. In her own self, she’s a leader. Maybe she’s not the talk leader or the leader you see, but you can tell she’s a leader by how she plays.”

Last Tuesday, the first game was tied at 23-23, but Schorn blasted a kill down the left side and then an Astoria player dumped the ball into the net to keep the Braves’ undefeated streak intact.

Then the 5-foot-11 Bunn got going at the net, contributing nine kills and four blocks over the final two sets.

“Megan’s just a beast. She hits people in the face, and she hits them every which way,” Partain said about her close friend. “I literally think she had like a hundred kills tonight — I don’t even know how many it was, but she’s phenomenal.”

Bunn and her teammates have a little bit of time on their hands now, waiting for the first round of the Class 4A playoffs on Nov. 2. Alley said the squad would try to pick up a match against another top team in the meantime and fine tune in practice for the playoffs.

It’s not difficult to guess what Banks will be doing during the layoff.

“We definitely strive for the highest,” Bunn said. “We definitely are held at higher standards, and we work our butts off at practice.”

With the playoffs and a possible state tournament berth on the horizon, the Braves seem to be finding their collective footing, peaking at just the opportune time.

That is the perfect spot, especially considering where this team began.

“Before we started the season ... we kind of didn’t know where this group was going to go,” Diana Herb said. “But now, the level they’re at and the way they’re playing together as a team, the confidence I have in them has grown so much.”

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