Volleyball — Newberg will be better for the experience, but missed an opportunity to lock up a league title

McMINNVILLE — Playing rival McMinnville on its home court, Newberg could almost taste victory after a Samantha Weymouth ace put the Tigers up 14-11 in the fifth set of an epic battle on Sept. 26.

Fueled by a raucous home crowd, the Grizzlies staved off defeat to even the match at 14-14, setting up a tense finish that both teams will likely benefit from the experience of getting through it.

Newberg earned a match point three consecutive times after that, but the Grizzlies would not surrender, surviving thanks to a pair of Newberg errors and a kill. by: SETH GORDON - Newberg senior   middle blocker Emmie Schmidt hits a touch shot during the Tigers' 3-2 loss at McMinnville Sept. 26.

The Tigers in turn fought off a McMinnville match point, but dropped the final two points to fall 20-18 in the set and 3-2 in the match.

“I think that they brought their game and we brought ours, they just happened to get on top of it,” senior Maya Adams said. “We let down a little bit, but we can come back.”

Every set of the match was tightly contested, as momentum swung back and forth the gym several times.

The Grizzlies pulled ahead by taking the first 25-22, but Newberg responded with 25-21 and 25-22 victories to go up 2-1.

McMinnville went on a long run of points to break open the fourth and held off a late charge from the Tigers to prevail 25-18.

“We expected it to be a really close match,” head coach McKenzie Upchurch said. “During the fourth set we lost several points in a row and our serve-receive failed us that particular game. We just weren’t able to regain the momentum.”

Newberg’s 14-11 lead was the only time either team led by more than two points in the fifth and deciding set and even though the Tigers didn’t close it out, there were positives to draw from the game.

“It’s nice to compete at this level,” Upchurch said. “Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. I think they’re frustrated and disappointed right now, but well come back and be fine.”

Rachel Thompson led the team with 17 kills, but otherwise the offense was fairly balanced, with Emma Voss adding seven kills after moving to the right side to provide a stronger block against Grizzlies standout Madison Vicknair, who racked up 26 kills in the game. Taylor Burger stepped with eight kills as well, with Gaby Aihara passing out 37 assists.

Previously unbeaten in Pacific Conference play, a win would have practically wrapped up the league title for the Tigers (12-2 overall, 7-1 Pacific Conference), who now lead the Grizzlies (11-3, 6-2) by just one game.

Newberg began the week with a routine 25-13, 25-14, 25-10 win at Hillsboro on Sept. 24 and stepped out of conference at the Oregon City tournament on Saturday.

Missing a few players for the tournament, the Tigers split sets with Estacada, St. Mary’s and Astoria during pool play, putting them on the bottom half of the playoff bracket.

Newberg (12-2) cruised from there, sweeping McKay 25-18, 25-17 and Wilson 25-15, 25-16 to earn fifth place.

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