Lions roar: West Linn volleyball wins Oregon Class 6A state title
Perseverance pays off in any sport, but in volleyball it feels just a little bit better.
Whether that's taking the point on a long rally or battling back from a large deficit in a set, it gives players that extra motivation.
So when West Linn High volleyball found itself down 17-13 in the second set to Jesuit during the Class 6A state title match Saturday at Liberty High School, the Lions had no time to panic.
Instead, they rallied to finish the set on a 12-4 run to win the frame and go up on the Crusaders 2-0 in the match.
That momentum didn't let up in the third either, as West Linn swept Jesuit 25-16, 25-21, 25-20 to win the Class 6A state title, the Lions' fifth in program history and first since 2007.
"Obviously it didn't start off the way we wanted it to," Lions setter and player of the game Shealyn Cecil said of the second set. "But we've done that plenty of times before, starting off low, bringing it back and pulling out a win."
West Linn had to do exactly that the night before in the semifinals against Central Catholic.
After taking the first two sets, the Lions dropped sets three and four to the Rams, who then had all the momentum going into the fifth.
But, like Cecil said, the Lions brought it back and battled for the win against an Oregon volleyball powerhouse.
The reward? Perhaps an even bigger powerhouse in Jesuit, which dispensed with Bend 3-1 in the semifinals.
No problem early for the Lions, who built a lead as large as nine in the first frame behind six kills from Addie Hoover.
In the second, West Linn didn't hold a lead until it took over at 20-19 on a block for a point, which the Lions finished with 10 of compared to the Crusaders' 6.5.
"It's nice that the seniors had exposure their sophomore year so they had experience coming in," West Linn coach Emilie Wilmes said. "Having that many seniors held the standards super high for all the newcomers on the team. They led by example. Every practice was competitive and that was always good."
Jesuit took an early lead in the third set, but it wouldn't last as the block from West Linn continued to stymie Jesuit's 6-foot-3 middle blocker Tess Masingale.
The Crusaders' outside hitters Ceanna O'Loughlin and Isabel Patterson were coming off big nights against the Bend Lava Bears, but couldn't find many holes in the Lions' defense, either.
"I think they're pretty solid in every position and they had quite a bit of experience coming in," Jesuit coach Teresa Zimmerlee said. "The other two times we played them, (the blockers) were pretty tough."
West Linn blockers, led by Rayna Reynolds and Ella Nordquist, consistently got their hands on the Jesuit attacks, making for easy digs in the back or at least funneling the attacks right into the arms of the defensive specialists.
"Rayna and Ella are both huge in the middle … they put up a wall," Cecil said. "It really helps our defenders out. Big switch from the quarterfinal game and the semifinal game to turn it around."
Up 24-20 in the third set, Nordquist delivered the final kill when Jesuit sent its second hit over the net and out of play, giving the Lions their first volleyball state title in 14 years.
Hoover and Belmont University bound Emily Warmenhoven led the way with 11 kills each, while Cecil had 31 assists and 11 digs. Reynolds racked up four total blocks as well.
The fifth volleyball state title ties West Linn with Barlow, La Salle Prep, St. Mary's Academy, Corbett, Vale and Corvallis for the ninth most in Oregon state history.
While Jesuit still sits above the Lions with seven, winning in 2021 with this group meant everything to West Linn, which has been knocking on the Crusaders door step for years.
"I think everybody was really hoping it was going to happen," Wilmes said on matching up with Jesuit. "It was a lot of hope for two years in a row and having a COVID season that wasn't normal I feel like was more of a build-up."
The feeling is mutual in her players.
"We've been feuding with Jesuit for a while now," Cecil said. "They've been top dog for a really long time. It feels great to knock them off their throne."
No matter who the opponent was, though, there was no denying this Lions team, which finished the year with a 27-2 overall record, the only losses coming to Class 5A state champs West Albany and Idaho's Skyview in two separate tournaments.
But the only tournament that mattered was the final one, and now the Lions will bring back a piece of golden hardware to the halls of West Linn High School.
"I'm kind of on a high right now," Cecil said. "We've been working on this for a really long time, so it feels absolutely great."
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