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The young Braves netters beat Seaside and are narrowly defeated by Tillamook in a gut-wrenching five set thriller

COURTESY PHOTO BRAD MOSHER - Banks' Dani Neuman goes up for a spike during the Braves' match with Tillamook Thursday, Sept. 28.After a stretch run of unprecedented volleyball success at Banks High School, which included a state championship in 2015, second place finish in 2014, and fifth place finish last season, coupled with the departure of stalwarts like Mary Schorn and Maddie Standley, first-year co-head coaches Natalie Herb and Aubrey Rue knew there would be a learning curve for this year's version of Brave netters.

And they were right.

Banks is currently 4-9 overall and 1-5 in Cowapa League play. But while struggling to get the wins necessary to compete with this season's league best, they've fought and steadily improved, and Herb is happy what she's seen from her young group.

"They've gone through the types of peaks and valleys you'd expect from a young team, and one that's growing," said Herb. "But they never quit and I was complimenting them for that in recent days. Last week was a big step for us."

The "last week" she's referring to was an inaugural 2017 league win over Seaside, and a tough five set loss at Tillamook. Herb was thrilled with the much needed home-court win over the Gulls September 26, and equally pleased with the effort at Tillamook two days later. Certainly, a win is a win, but it's what the win and the effort at Tillamook meant to the team going forward that had her excited about the team's literal and figurative victories.

"That win was such a breath of fresh air for the girls," said Herb. "When you're learning and building like we are right now, it's hard to maintain the drive when you're losing. We've struggled finding success in the wake of losses, but these girls have worked so hard and the win was a great reward for that."

The game versus the Cheesemakers was a tightly contested match and second five-set loss versus Tillamook for Banks this season. Herb said the most recent road game was a much higher level of volleyball than the first, and was a different level of pain in defeat because the girls had played so well.

COURTESY PHOTO: BRAD MOSHER - Banks' Ellie Schmidlin focuses on a dig during the Braves' match with Tillamook Thursday, Sept. 28."The girls are learning how tough you have to be both physically and mentally to succeed to win matches at this level," the coach said. "And it's that learning that's making it exciting now to watch."

Herb said the entire team has been steadfast in an effort to improve, but cited sophomore Halle Vandomelen and Bella Albert, along with seniors Ellie Schmidlin and Dani Neuman as individuals that are worthy of recognition.

"It's been such a team effort, but I'm really proud of Halle because she's developed so much both in regards to skill and court awareness," Herb said. "Also, Bella Albert who has moved from the middle to the outside and has been very solid, while Ellie (Schmidlin) and Dani (Neuman) have showed the type of maturity and leadership you need from your seniors. But again, it's hard to single people out because the team in general has worked so hard."

Going forward, the Braves have four league games remaining with top-ranked Valley Catholic, Scappoose, Astoria, and Seaside. But while everyone wants to win, Herb said they'll be focusing on what those games can mean from a bigger picture perspective regarding future success that will be at least in the backs of their minds, while focusing on the short-term goals necessary to help with the long-term success.

"Aubrey and I have continued to tell them that they're going to get everything from us, but it's ultimately up to them to continue to work and grow," Herb said. "We told them to think about short term goals to win, opposed to the long term things that come with winning."

And that's admittedly hard to do when you're involved with a program like Banks, that's done a heck of a lot of that winning in recent years.

"It would be easy to get caught up in the winning tradition we've had at Banks in recent years and think it's a right to make it to the state tournament every year," said Herb. "But it year's like this that remind you that it's really hard work that gets you there and these girls have done that at practice and in games. They're hungry and definitely want to do more before the season ends."

Banks' will travel to Valley Catholic Oct. 3 and will host Scappoose Thursday, Oct. 5 at Banks High School.

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