Valley Catholic volleyball sweeps past Sweet Home to win Class 4A title
It's long been said that only two things are certain in life — death and taxes.
But it's time to add a third item to that list — another win by the Valley Catholic volleyball team.
The Valiants proved it big-time on Saturday, Nov. 9, sweeping past Sweet Home 25-23, 25-23, 25-17 to win their second straight Class 4A state championship in a match held at Forest Grove High School.
"It feels amazing. I'm so proud of my team," said Valley Catholic senior setter Allie Merz, who finished with 32 assists and was a unanimous first-team all-tournament selection. "They are an amazing opponent. We responded well to the challenge and we responded to the adversity they gave us."
"I knew that we had it," said Valley Catholic freshman outside hitter Naima Foster, another first-team all-tournament selection. "We worked so hard this whole year. I knew that we had it so I trusted my teammates."
"During the last point, I knew we were going to get it," added junior middle blocker Maddie Klopcic, a second-team all-tournament pick. "We worked so hard for this and it all came together."
With the win, the team's fourth straight, the top-ranked Cowapa League champion Valiants finished their 2019 season with a 26-3 overall record. No. 3 Sweet Home, meanwhile, saw its four-match winning streak snapped and finished its year with a 21-3 overall mark after tying for first place in the Oregon West Conference.
Valley Catholic opened its state tournament with a 25-23, 25-21, 25-21 win over seventh-ranked Banks on Friday, Nov. 8; the Braves, the Cowapa League runner-up, ended their year at 18-9. Later on Friday, the Valiants raced past No. 4 Junction City 25-10, 25-15, 25-17 in the state semifinals; the Pacific Conference champion Tigers saw their season end with a 21-6 overall mark.
"I think if you talk to anybody on the team, you'll hear we have the most amazing team chemistry. We are the closest team," said Valley Catholic senior opposite/middle blocker Madeleine Beaupre. "We've got a really great program. Thanks to (head coach Becky Kemper) for that."
"I was really nervous at the start (of the year)," Klopcic added. "Our freshmen came out kind of scared and we really needed them to step up as the outside hitters and they came out this whole tournament and they were hitting so hard. They had no fear and it just worked out so well."
That said, the talented Huskies made sure none of it was easy. Sweet Home got five kills and two aces from junior Bailee Hartsook in the opening set and led by as much as 15-6 on a right-side kill by junior Teja Abott.
But the Valiants did not panic. Instead, they won 12 of the next 14 points to take an 18-17 lead, getting two kills from freshman outside hitter Francis Eisenhardt, and a block and a kill by Klopcic.
The set was still tied at 21-21 when junior Sweet Home's Shelbey Nichol connected from the left side, but Valley Catholic pulled away from there, getting a Merz tip, a kill from the middle by Beaupre, and two points later, a Beaupre kill assisted by Merz to win 25-23.
In the second set, it was Valley Catholic that started quickly, scoring five straight points to lead 9-4, the last three of those on left-side kills from Foster.
The Huskies didn't go away easily, however, stitching together a 12-7 run to tie the set at 16-16, with Abbott serving a five-point run that included back-to-back kills from sophomore Jamie Seward.
Sweet Home was still within 19-18 when Seward connected on a free ball, but the Valiants took over after that, getting a tip by Klopcic, a point from Merz, an ace by senior Zoey VanVleet (another second-team all-tourney selection) and three Huskies' errors to win 25-23.
Klopcic and Eisenhardt had four kills each in the set, and Foster and Merz three each.
Valley Catholic saved its best for last, using an early five-point run served by junior Gretchen Kibbe to lead 6-1, then extending its lead to 12-4 on a Merz block and a Husky hitting error.
Sweet Home — which got three Hartsook kills in the final set — edged back within 17-12, but the Valiants weren't going to let this one get away. They outscored the Huskies 8-5 down the stretch, starting with a Klopcic kill from the middle and another from the right side.
Then, after VC won a joust at the net and got a pair of aces from VanVleet, Foster connected down the line and Kibbe scored to push the Valiants' lead to 24-17. Valley Catholic sophomore Kylee King served the final point, made a dig on the Huskies' ensuing attack, then saw Merz set Kibbe for the game-winner — a crosscourt attack from the right side that hit just inside the sideline.
"First of all, I didn't know if it was in so I was like, 'Please be in,'" Beaupre said. "Then, when it went down, I was like 'Oh my gosh, This is what we've been preparing for.' We were all crying and it was like everything we had dreamed of."
"I saw (King) was ready to serve and I said 'This is our point. This is our game,'" Klopcic added.
In a year that began with two freshmen outside hitters thrust into the role of 2018 star Kayla Robbins — she had 49 kills in the team's five-set title win over Cottage Grove and was a unanimous all-tournament selection — Valley Catholic used its "next point" mentality to keep it on track all season.
"We always focused on the next point," Beaupre said. "We forget about what happened on the last set, what happened on the last point and just keep going forward."
"We always say 'Next point,' so no matter what, we focus on the next point that's going to happen and we always focus on that point and execute it," Foster said. "I think it really helped us."
The Valiants — the team also included Trinity Baumgartner, Caitlin O'Kief, Carmen Hendrickson and Emma Milton — used their team attack to great effect all year long.
"Something that's been really common for our team is we have a horse, someone we always hit the ball to," Merz said. "But this year, it was super even. Everyone got their turn to hit and I think that really helped our team."
"I really think everybody did such a great job stepping it up," Beaupre added. "I think we were a very well-balanced team. I think that served us really well."
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