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The Eagles could not overcome strong hitting from Burns at the net, will face Creswell in third place match

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Friday, Nov. 5, was a new experience for the 2021 edition of the Catlin Gabel volleyball team. Prior to the Eagles encounter with the No. 2 seeded Burns, the team had only lost to 4A opposition. Twice they fell to 4A Valley Catholic, and once to 4A Stayton. In Burns (28-3) they finally found a 3A opponent who proved too much; the Hilanders handed Catlin Gabel a 3-1 defeat, 21-25, 25-23, 23-25, and 17-25 in the state semifinals.

Catlin Gabel leaped to a 5-0 lead early and maintained that lead throughout much of the first half of the first set. Big kills from Eagles' junior Elsa McDermott gave the No. 3 seed plenty of pep on the court and off, firing up the student section that traveled to support the team. But Burns, never too far behind at any one moment, tied up the game at 17-17 and slowly but surely pulled away. Service errors from Catlin Gabel and timely defense from the Hilanders ultimately made the difference, and Burns took a 1-0 lead with a 25-23 first set.

After the first set, Catlin Gabel coach Jeannette Lee tried to get her team's head right for the battle to come.

"I don't even know if I remember the talk between sets," Lee said. "I think it's usually something to the effect of reminding them of the game plan, reminding them about where they were defensively, and then we reminded them about how many times we've had our backs against the wall and how much they've come back."

The second set saw Catlin Gabel start off slower, initially dropping into a 9-5 deficit against the higher seeded team. From there though, the Eagles mounted a run of their own, going 10-3 to take a 15-10 lead at the midway point of the set. McDermott, senior Natalie Potter and junior Emma Shields all chipped in on that scoring streak, either serving or at the net, forcing Burns to call a time out and assess the damage.

PMG PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - Catlin Gabel's Elsa McDermott skies for the kill against Burns in the 3A volleyball semifinals on Friday, Nov. 5.

From there, the Hilanders stormed back to eventually even things up at 21-21, prompting Catlin Gabel to call its own timeout. Coming out of the break, the Eagles went on a 4-2 run to end the set. Potter punctuated the effort with a kill at the right side of the net, and Catlin Gabel was even with Burns 1-1.

The third set was just as close as the second. The two teams tied things up at seven different junctions. While Catlin Gabel was able to establish the lead early and hang on to it for the majority of the set, Burns kept on fighting and eventually overtook the Eagles 22-21. From there, Burns held off a Catlin Gabel counterattack to win the third set 25-23 and take a 2-1 lead.

Catlin Gabel found itself with its back against the wall and unrelenting Burns pressing its advantage. The Hilanders jumped out to a 8-2 lead, and stretched it into a 14-6 tally before Catlin Gabel put together a solid run. Kills from Potter and McDermott, as well as Burns errors, gave the Eagles four points to cut the lead to just four.

Burns recaptured the momentum just as quickly as they let it go, going on a 7-4 run to make things 23-14 and near the victory. Catlin Gabel put together a three-point run, but that was as close as they came. Burns closed out the final set 25-17, the final point a Potter hit into the net.

After the game, Lee consoled her hard-swinging senior.

"When you're such a pivotal player for a team like us, like she is, she's carried the load for so long for us, to make the final mistake really hurts the heart," Lee said. "We were just talking about how there were a ton of points before that one, and that one doesn't define her. We tried to focus on the amazing plays that she played prior, just to turn her perspective and make it positive again."

Catlin Gabel (19-4) will face off against Creswell (17-8) on Saturday, Nov. 6, in the third-place game. Between that game and loss to Burns, the Eagles must do just one thing, according to Lee: reset mentally.

"I think most of it is being goldfish," Lee said. "I think a lot of people use that metaphor. Just forgetting the past and moving forward. Having short-term memory. They're really great students of the game. That's how we beat Amity and how we beat Horizon as well. We looked at the tape, looked at the film, set up a game plan, and went after it. I think we'll do that same thing tonight. We'll just shift our focus to Creswell and see what we can do."

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