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Cavaliers senior Isabelle Combs get the green light to hit for the first time after ankle surgery and keys 25-20, 25-18, 25-22 win

PMG PHOTO: JIM BESEDA - Clackamas volleyball players (left to right) Natalie Gwynn, Jaiden Eubanks, Hannah Adsitt, Lauren Livingstone, Kalista Lukovich, and Isabelle Combs celebrate after securing match point in Thursdays 25-20, 25-18, 25-22 home win over Sandy.Clackamas' Isabelle Combs got back into the swing of things for the Cavaliers volleyball team in Thursday night's Mt. Hood Conference home match with the Sandy Pioneers.

Combs was limited in what she could do following off-season ankle surgery, but she got the green light before Thursday's match to get back to doing one of the things she does best -- hitting -- and she didn't hold back, leading the Cavaliers to a 25-20, 25-18, 25-22 home win.

Combs had five of her team-high nine kills in the third set and Kalista Luckovich added a kill on match point as the Cavaliers (4-4, 4-0 Mt. Hood) won their fourth in a row and kept pace with Central Catholic atop the league standings.

"That was so exciting," Combs said. "I was really nervous, because I honestly didn't know what way it was going to go.

"There was no point in the match where I felt on the court that we were stressed out. Once we got going, we felt confident that we could win."

Sandy had its moments, but that was the problem – they were just moments and aside from a 7-0 run at the start of the second set, the Pioneers (2-7, 2-2) struggled to string enough of them together to put sufficient heat on Clackamas.

"I think that we could have done better, but we tried as hard as we could have tonight," Sandy middle blocker Josie Jansen said. "There are some things we still need to work on, but once we get those together, we're going to come back and be fine."

Team effort

Clackamas got solid contributions from up and down the lineup. Among the highlights, Lukovich had seven kills, Jaiden Eubanks added six kills, Christin Kwon had a team-high 10 digs, Kanoelani Shadron had nine assists, and Natalie Gwynn served up four aces.

Pretty impressive, right? But there was no question that almost everything the Cavaliers did revolved around Combs, the senior outside hitter/defensive specialist who in addition to her nine kills also had a team-high 23 assists and four digs.

"Izzy's presence on the court is just incredible," Clackamas coach Lisa McBee said. "She's a leader on the court and she has all the kids -- she can set, she can pass, she can hit, and her defense is amazing.

"But the nice thing about having her on the court when she's hitting is the flexibility that we have in our front row when she's up there, because she brings a lot of confidence to the game and to everybody when she's on the court."

Combs won the Mt. Hood Conference girls triple jump district championship last spring and then underwent surgery on June 21 to repair a ligament in her left ankle.

She was cleared six weeks after her surgery to start physical therapy and to beginning working out. She still had to sit out the season-opening Central Catholic Tournament on Sept. 7 in Salem, but then was cleared to rejoin the Cavaliers for their Sept. 9 Mt. Hood Conference opener at Barlow, but with one major limitation -- no hitting.

Combs played the setter position in consecutive wins over Barlow, Reynolds, and Centennial, and then all restrictions on her game came off before Tuesday's match with Sandy.

In the first set, Sandy opened an 8-7 lead when Combs delivered her first kill of the match to get a side out and even the score.

The Pioneers regained a 14-10 advantage, but Sandy relinquished the serve on a hitting error, sparking a 12-3 Clackamas run that propelled the Cavaliers to a 22-17 lead. Combs then put the set away with a shot that deflected off a Sandy blocker before going out of bounds.

"After probably the first eight or 10 points, I felt fully confident that not only were we going to win the set, but we were going to win the match," Combs said. "I could just feel it between the girls. It felt like that feeling you get in your stomach where you're just happy and you know that it's going to work out for you."

Turning point

Sandy opened the second set on a 7-0 run that ended with Peyton Le Cornu driving the ball past Lukovich and Nikiforets, but the Pioneers couldn't sustain the early momentum.

Clackamas battled back to draw even at 16-16 and again at 18-18, and then closed the set on an 8-0 with Gwynn serving the last seven points.

"That was pretty disappointing," said Jansen, the Pioneers' 6-foot-2 senior. "I think we just let our energy drop. Once we find the right connections and keep our energy up the whole game, this is going to be a totally different team."

In the third set, Sandy's Annika Traxler delivered a kill to give the Pioneers a 17-14 lead, but Clackamas answered with an 8-5 burst to knot the score at 22-22.

The final three points came on a Sandy hit that landed wide right, a Gwynn ace, and Lukovich's kill that was set up by a Gwynn dig.

"The third set, we all kept saying, 'Just keep going. First to five, first to 10, first to 15, first to 20 and 25, and keep pushing,'" Combs said. "It didn't matter if they got a big, crazy kill or they dumped on us. Just flush it and, 'Next ball.'"

For the Pioneers, the loss was tough to swallow and there were an awful lot of postgame tears shed by players who apparently thought the team had turned a corner following consecutive wins over Gresham and David Douglas.

"We have seven returning players and seven new players," Pioneers coach Lihau Perreira said. "The key is finding that cohesive lineup that's going to work together. Every game has been different.

"I have never seen a team that has worked so hard in practice and has been so disciplined at practice, and then we get to the game and it's like a deer in headlights. And that might be a lack of experience playing at this level for a lot of girls."

If Perreira had it to do over again, she probably would like to take another stab at the second set.

"It's those moments when we have a 7-0 lead and we exhale and think, 'Oh, we're good,'" she said. "And then the other team gets a point and we're like, 'Oh, wait, we're not good.'

"Well, we can't expect that the game is going to be 25-0. We have to be ready for them to block us. We have to be ready for them to hit at the ball at us. We have to expect that those things are going to happen because that's volleyball."

Her hope is that the Pioneers can channel their disappointment in a positive direction heading into home matches Tuesday against Centennial and Thursday against Barlow.

"I hope the team that shows up is going to be those girls that left here crying, those girls that are showing that emotion," Perreira said. "That shows us that they've got the passion, they've got the fight in them somewhere.

"Now, we have to show it in a game. I want that team to show up. I want to see that you care when you're out on the court, not after the fact. Points don't matter after the fact."

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