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Wildcats oust league-leading Lions in push towards postseason

by: JEFF GOODMAN / FILE - Lexy Thompson and the Wilsonville volleyball team defeated league-leading St. Helens at home Oct. 15. Above, Thompson leaps for a spike in a previous match against Sandy.With her team one set away from a setback against league-leading St. Helens, Wilsonville volleyball coach Kristen Rott had one wish.

“I was hoping to just get to game five,” she said. “I truly enjoy the fifth set with this team. We’ve had three five-game matches this year, and the girls really have a different mindset in game five. They come out guns a-blazing. The way the girls play in game five — the energy is way up.”

Rott got her wish, and the Wildcats clawed for a victory in the decisive frame to snatch a 3-2 (25-22, 10-25, 18-25, 25-20, 15-13) triumph over the Lions at home Oct. 15.

It was undoubtedly one of the most momentous wins of the season for Wilsonville (13-3, 10-2 in the Northwest Oregon Conference), who gained a game in the league standings while handing the third-ranked Lions their first loss of the regular season.

It came on the heels of a disappointing road defeat at the hands of rival Sherwood, which the Wildcats had swept at home earlier in the year.

“Sherwood is a tough match for these young ladies, but it was just a belief issue,” Rott said. “It was mental. In no way were we overlooking Sherwood. (The girls) have to learn how to fight at an away venue, and they have to get over their mental lapses.

“But having the tough loss at Sherwood, the girls really had to refocus. You learn more from the losses than the wins. It definitely prepared us on how we have to be a tougher serving team, a tougher passing team. So we were able to cut down our errors against St. Helens, and things went in our favor.”

The Wildcats trailed 2-1 after three games but forced a tiebreaker with a 25-20 win in the fourth frame and eked out a 15-13 triumph in the final set. Individual statistics were not immediately available.

Rott, who is in her first year at the helm, knew her players could engineer a comeback — she’s seen them assume a comeback-’Cats mentality and erase deficits on numerous occasions this season. And they won previous five-set matches against Parkrose and Liberty in league play.

All Rott had to do, she said, was convince her players of their abilities and discourage them from worrying about the accomplishments of the team on the other side of the net.

“I was just trying to rally their mental focus,” Rott said. “We’re a young team — we only have two seniors — so there was that belief of, ‘We’re good, but maybe we’re not as good as the first-place team.’ So I was trying to refocus them. It doesn’t have to be about the big picture. It was about, ‘I’m physically capable of accomplishing these physical skills,’ and it was simply refocusing how we accomplish each skill in each play. And the girls were able to, point by point, come back and win that fourth one and push hard into the fifth.”

Wilsonville has already guaranteed its first winning season since 2010. But for the program to make a dent in the postseason — it hasn’t won a state playoff game since 2007 — it will likely require improved mental fortitude in road matches.

Rott said that much was made clear in her team’s recent loss to Sherwood.

“It concerns me because I know that state (competition) is not going to be held in our gymnasium,” she said. “I know how well our girls play on our home court, but I don’t know how they’ll perform at a neutral site. And that’s a huge factor for us going into state. We have to take advantage of opportunities we’re given. You beat the No. 1 team in the league, and you could be tied with them for first place instead of being in second. It’s a lesson learned. It will definitely be part of our preparation for state.”

The Wildcats took another step towards the postseason with a 3-0 shutout of Parkrose on senior night at home Oct. 17. With the help of their two graduating players, Rebecca Wenz and Kyanna Swendseid, they earned a season sweep of the Broncos.

Wenz, a team captain, will be “dearly missed,” Rott said.

“She’s a leader for us on and off the court,” Rott said. “She’s a huge part of our spirit development and our team chemistry. On the court, she’s one of the few outside hitters I’ve seen who can really bury the ball down the line with that corner shot. Her ball control, her serve-receive, her defense — no one has more discipline than Rebecca.”

Swendseid, who recently returned to action after sustaining a concussion earlier in the season, had a standout game against Parkrose.

“She started and did an absolutely superb job,” Rott said. “She had a couple critical blocks and attacked very well for us.”

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