St. Paul rebounds from quarterfinal loss to league rival Central Linn with wins over Heppner and Monroe to post best finish in four years at 2A level

REDMOND — In four years, volleyball coach Lesli Hiller said that St. Paul has been made to feel very welcome at the 2A level. SETH GORDON - Haley Scott and Isabelle Wyss defend the net during St. Paul's 3-1 loss to Central Linn in the 2A state quarterfinals Friday. The Bucks rebounded to beat Heppner and Monroe to claim fourth place, their highest showing in four years at the 2A level.

That has included invites to large 2A and even 3A tournaments, like Reedsport and Creswell, as the Bucks have looked to challenge themselves outside of league despite playing in the ultra-tough Tri-River Conference.

Perhaps more importantly, Hiller's team has proven on the court — at those tournaments, in league play and during four appearances in the state playoffs — that it belongs at the 2A level competitively.

On its way back to 1A next year, St. Paul hammered that point home Friday and Saturday by placing fourth in the last of three consecutive trips to the 2A state tournament.

"It was amazing," Hiller said. "It was a really good weekend and I'm just really proud of the girls. They played very well. This is our best showing at 2A and that was one of our goals, to end on a win."

The Bucks faced a familiar opponent in Central Linn in the opening round, eager to avenge two regular-season losses.

St. Paul got off to a good start, winning the opening set 25-16, but the Cobras won the next two 25-23 and 25-20 to take the upper hand. It came down to the wire in the fourth, as the Bucks had a chance on serve to force a fifth set, but couldn't put it away and fell 26-24.

"We almost had them in the fourth game, but we lost the serve and they got it, just an error that kind of threw the game," Hiller said. "But they played really well all the way up to that."

Senior outside hitter Logan Robinson slammed a team-high 20 kills in the match and added 12 P2K (passes to a kill) from the back row. Sophomore Isabelle Wyss gave the Bucks balance with 18 kills from her side, with middle blocker Erin Counts adding eight kills and six stuff blocks. Libero Emma Connor had 21 P2K and senior setter Marley Martinez led the team with 28 assists.

"Logan had just a phenomenal tournament defensively and offensively," Hiller said. "Marley Martinez was serve receiving great, as well as her usual setting and the same with Karlee Southerland. Isabelle Wyss was hammering the ball just like Logan. They were both just hitting great. Our blockers, Erin and Haley, had some great kills. They were getting touches on every hit coming our way."

Hiller said it took the team a little time to adjust to the raucous atmosphere at Redmond High School, where two games were played simultaneously on side-by-side courts.

With a smaller crowd on Saturday morning for the consolation semifinals, St. Paul rolled to a 25-28, 25-19, 25-20 win over Heppner.

"The gym is just huge," Hiller said. "The ceiling is so high and just getting oriented to that court takes time. Then in that morning bracket it's a little quieter than it is when everything is going on like that first round. Saturday we owned the court."

Hiller credited a balanced effort for the result, including strong serving and backrow play by Presley Smith. Wyss led the offense with 14 kills and Robinson added 11. Martinez and fellow setter Karlee Southerland dished out 14 assists apiece.

The atmosphere was cranked back up again for the consolation finals, which coincided with the third-place game between fellow Tri-River Conference teams Kennedy and Central Linn, with the Trojans prevailing 3-0.

"It was just so loud with Kennedy and Central Linn and us all on the same court at once," Hiller said. "It was packed."

St. Paul rose to the occasion, winning the opening set 25-18, but it was how the team handled falling behind 20-14 in the second set, rallying to win 29-27, that most impressed Hiller and drew in fans from the other game. The Bucks then rolled to a 25-13 win to complete the sweep and claim fourth, giving the Tri-River the No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 spots at state.

"Both Kennedy and Central Linn, their game was over, but they all stood and cheered us on and parents that I don't even know were coming up and congratulating us," Hiller said. "Especially after that game where we came back from down 14-20, just to show the fire that St. Paul has. It's just got such a good tradition of having a drive in it to succeed."

Wyss led the team again with 23 kills, with Robinson adding 12 kills and 13 P2K. Senior middle blocker Haley Scott had four kills and one block, with Martinez finishing with 21 assists.

Robinson was named to the all-tournament team, joining two from Kennedy and two from Central Linn to give the TRC a tournament high five players honored. St. Paul was also honored with the Sportsmanship Award.

"Even after we lost that first match, it was pretty hard to lose to Central Linn again, but our leaders stepped up and got our team motivated," Hiller said. "We just came after it because we are probably moving back to 1A next year and we wanted to show 2A that we had something. So it was good to walk away with fourth."

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