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Defending state champions are again the top seed at the Class 6A tournament this year

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Jesuit volleyball standouts Peyton Griffin and Ella Masingale and the Crusaders are in the 6A state tourney this week.

So much for a rebuilding season.

After graduating the gist of its undefeated, undaunted 2018 Class 6A state championship squad, the Jesuit volleyball program is still booming. The Crusaders went wire-to-wire through the regular season as the top-rated team in the Class 6A coaches' poll, finished as No. 1 team in the 6A power rankings and willed themselves to another Metro League title.

There have been small setbacks along the way. Mountainside looked ready to wrest away Metro from Jesuit after beating the Crusaders in a four-set match back in September. Jesuit lost consecutive matches against 4A power Valley Catholic and again Mountainside hours later at a weekend tourney in West Linn. The Crusaders have, in fact, lost four matches this season. But here Jesuit sits, the top seed in the 6A state tourney, with a quarterfinal date against Summit on Friday at 10 a.m. at Liberty High School. The Crusaders swept Barlow in the first round and took down South Eugene in four sets to advance to the elite eight.

The rostered personnel is different, the program ideal is not.

Seniors Ella Masingale and Molly Piszczek have embraced bigger leadership roles within the team. Juniors such as Peyton Griffin and Alison Buchholz have elevated their play from supporting actresses to lead roles. Seldom used players who once patiently sat behind big-name stars a season ago are all of a sudden contributing in important ways.

"A lot of the kids that sat on the bench last year were hungry to play," Jesuit head coach Teresa Zimmerlee said. "That makes a big difference. The younger kids came in fired up to have their chance. They wanted to get on the floor last year. We just had that really solid group, so they had to wait their time."

Zimmerlee said this crop of Crusaders is coachable. They play sound defense, hit the ball hard or place it depending on what's asked of them. They don't get off script or freelance. Plus, this team can go on serving sprees and take teams out of system. Griffin, Buchholz, Hannah Nguyen and Maisie Alexander can float the ball or pound it at teams from the backline and get Jesuit going with great serves. Maddy Dowdall played in the middle a year ago and transitioned to outside hitter.

"It's always fun when kids will step up and do the extra work and have a great attitude about changing up a few things," Zimmerlee said. "The kids made a commitment to getting at least a little bit better every day. We pushed them to focus on the little things and to be individually responsible for that aspect of their playing."

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