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After a slow start to the first set, the Cavaliers earned a 25-23, 25-21, 25-22 road win Thursday over the Pioneers

PMG PHOTO: JIM BESEDA - Sandy's Ashley Alex (5) and Josie Jansen (13) rise above the net to try and block a shot by Clackamas' Kalista Lukovich (9) during Thursday's Mt. Hood Conference volleyball match at Sandy.As the Sandy Pioneers walked off the volleyball court after Tuesday's Mt. Hood Conference match against visiting a lot of the Sandy players were left scratching their heads.

It was puzzling how the Pioneers could hit the floor looking like world-beaters and then go flat when it mattered most.

Was it something Clackamas did? Something Sandy didn't do? A combination of the two?

Whatever the reason — or reasons — Clackamas withstood Sandy's quick start and then gave the Pioneers a lesson in how to finish, rolling to a 25-23, 25-21, 25-22 and completing a sweep on the two-game league series.

Senior outside hitter Isabelle Combs led Clackamas with 11 kills and seven digs, and freshman opposite hitter Kalista Lukovich added seven kills and three blocks to help the Cavaliers (14-7, 10-1 Mt. Hood) lock up one of the top two spots in the league race with three games left in the regular season.

"We struggled at the start, but nobody checked out," Combs said. "The energy was very positive and everyone had that 'next-ball' mentality. I think that's what kept us playing at such a high level through all three sets."

With the loss, the Pioneers (8-14, 7-4) dropped three games behind Clackamas, but maintained a two-game lead over Barlow in the race for the league's third and final automatic berth in the OSAA Class 6A playoffs.

"A loss this late in the season shows us that we haven't reached the peak yet," Sandy coach Lihau Perreira said. "We haven't reached the top of the mountain yet. We have that much more to go, right?

"We've still got three games left, and I told the girls tonight, 'Those are three games that could easily slip through our hands if we don't show up, if we come out and we're not pressing right off the bat."

Quick start

On Tuesday, the Pioneers hit the floor running as they raced out to a 7-0 lead in the first set.

Chloe Bierbrauer had the serve during Sandy's match-opening run that was highlighted by a Josie Jansen block for a point, a Sydney Brewster tip, a Jansen kill, and another Jansen block, followed by a Clackamas timeout.

The break in the action served as a wake-up call for the Cavaliers, who scored the first point after the timeout and then chipped away at the Sandy lead.

Clackamas tied the first set at 12-12 when a Sandy shot landed out of bounds, and then Christin Kwon served up an ace to give the Cavaliers their first lead, 13-12.

From there, the lead changed hands three times and Sandy went back on top 21-18 before the Cavaliers closed on a 7-2 run, putting the set away on a Pioneers' service error.

"The whole time, we stayed together as a team," said Kwon, the Cavaliers' junior libero. "That was a pretty crazy start, but we were like, 'OK, we need to shake it off and play the next ball.' We never fell apart."

Clackamas never trailed in the second set, opening leads of 10-6, 18-10, and 21-16 before Jaiden Eubanks drove the ball off two Sandy blockers and out of play for game point.

In the third set, there were 11 ties and six lead changes before Sandy's Annika Traxler put down a kill that tied the match for the 12th time at 18-18. Clackamas then reeled off the next three points, sparking a 7-5 run that ended with Britney Eickhoff setting Combs for a match-ending kill.

"That was really solid," Combs said. "People finally started to read the hits and the hitters, so we made more digs and more plays and kept rallies going People got more aggressive at the net, which was really good, and then our blocking got better as the match went on."

Consistently inconsistent

The Pioneers had their moments, but struggled to rekindle the fire that they had to start the first set.

"Mentally, we just weren't there when we needed to be," said Bierbrauer, Sandy's junior setter. "It was like an energy thing. We came out super pumped and then Clackamas called a timeout and our momentum just stopped.

"Clackamas started changing up their shots and throwing in a lot more tips and chips and using our blockers to their advantage. We needed to adjust sooner. Actually, we adjusted toward the end, the games were super close, and we fought hard, but in the end, we didn't finish."

Perreira, the Pioneers' first-year coach, saw two different Sandy teams Tuesday — the one that jumped out to a 7-0 lead and the one that spent the latter part of all three sets playing catch-up.

"What happened was they had their foot on the gas to start the match and they got up 7-0," Perreira said. "Then they got to a point when they felt, 'Ahh, we're good,' and they took their foot off the gas and put it in neutral. When you do that, you're going to lose games."

Perreira also had spent a good portion of Monday's practice talking to her players about "the difference between being interested and being committed."

"If you're interested in something, you're like, 'All right, I'll show up, I'll play, and I'll do it on my terms,'" she said. "But when you're committed to something, you're trusting in the process, you're trusting what the coaches are saying, and you're trusting the girls that are next to you. And that just wasn't there tonight.

"Everything comes back to the trust. It might be, 'Am I got to get there?' Or it might be, 'Is my setter going to set the ball when I need it to be?' We worked on making small adjustments and just going up and finding the ball and hitting it at practice on Monday, but we didn't see that carry over into tonight's game."

Competitive fire

Clackamas deserves some credit, too. The Cavaliers got contributions from throughout their lineup, especially Eickhoff, who took over the setting duties with starter Kanoelani Shadron absent because of an illness.

"It was a great effort in terms of everyone working hard, digging in, and our relentless pursuit of the ball," Cavaliers coach Lisa McBee said. "They've really been focusing on the process and tonight they got a positive resutl out of it, so I thought that was great.

"One of the things you work on during the season is being resilient and pushing through even when things are tough. Sometimes the question is, 'How do you get through this point to push on to the next one and then continue to build momentum off of that?' I think the girls did a great job with that tonight."

By Jim Beseda
Sports editor
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