The Bowmen defeat the Vikings in straight sets, frustrating Forest Grove head coach Amber Lieb.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Sherwood's Liv Van Austen rises for an attack versus Forest Grove defenders during their match Sept. 9 at Sherwood High School.The Sherwood volleyball team had something to prove in their match versus Forest Grove Thursday, Sept. 9.

Following a straight-set loss to Century in the Bowmen's league-opener two days prior, head coach Jenette Brotnov said she challenged her team before their game against the Vikings, and to her pleasure they responded — mightily.

"I thought we played amazing," Brotnov said. "After our Tuesday game, this is how we should be playing all the time."

Sherwood defeated Forest Grove 25-11, 25-17, 25-6, and in the process showed their coach not only what they were capable of on this night, but also their potential going forward in a Pacific Conference that's truly there for the taking.

"When this team works together, they have a lot of potential and can achieve anything they want," she said. "For us it's about the chemistry and getting them to work together as a team. If we can continue to improve on that, we have a lot of potential."

The Bowmen (3-2, 1-1) were led by their big and athletic front, on this night featuring senior Emma Wagner, junior Liv Van Austen, and sophomore Emily Fulton who combined for more than 25 kills, 10 of which came from Fulton. Brotnov spoke highly of all three, but singled-out the standout sophomore as someone who the team rallies around and responds to.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Forest Grove's Valentina Raggi (15) rises for a spike during their match Sept. 9 at Sherwood High School."Emily Fulton has really been a great leader for us on the court so far and stepped up in a big way for us," the coach said. "When she's on, we're all on."

Things weren't quite as rosy for Forest Grove, who too had heightened expectations coming into the match, and season as a whole. Head coach Amber Lieb believed her team was prepared to challenge the Bowmen coming-off of three straight wins, including a 3-2 win over Liberty in their league-opener, but was perplexed by what she frustratingly described as a disappointing effort.

"I don't understand," Lieb said. "I feel like we have a good game and get momentum, then we go to one of our league's teams that has in the past performed well, and we just rollover and hand it to them."

The Vikes played uninspired most of the night, and technically were out of position and off the mark regarding the passing necessary to score at the net. Lieb also pointed to their apparent lack of confidence as something troubling her team, resulting from what she believes to be a product of last year's shortened season, but also an overall culture issue that she can't seem to put her finger on.

"We talk all the time about having confidence and believing in ourselves," Lieb said. "These girls are here because they're the best at what they do here in Forest Grove, and they need to understand that and play like it."

After dropping the first two sets, the Vikes played sloppily in the third, handing the Bowmen the match with a series of self-inflicted wounds. Lieb, while frustrated, said she hoped the performance and lopsided result would inspire her team to put their best foot forward while there's still time, opposed to weeks or matches from now when it will be too late.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Sherwood sophomore outside hitter Emily Fulton attacks the Forest Grove defense during their match Sept. 9 at Sherwood High School."I almost wish they would've handed us a 25-0 loss, because maybe that would've lit a fire," Lieb said. "I don't know how else to get these girls to have that hunger and fight in them. It needs to be now or never."

One bright spot for Forest Grove was the play of senior exchange student Valentina Raggi. The middle blocker — despite language barriers — shone bright on an otherwise dark night, proving her worth to her coach who's still seeking ways to get the most from her emerging skill set.

"Her skill level is amazing," Lieb said. "There are some communication problems at times with her, only because she hasn't played with us for three years, but we're trying to find ways to utilize her because she's so talented."

It's that untapped talent coupled with the existing returning core that has Lieb both exasperated and excited by what could be going forward.

"I feel like this season and this team has a really good opportunity to set the tone for what we want our program to be," Lieb said. "We have the talent, we have kids with club experience, and we're working really hard to set that tone, but you have to have pride when you step on the court, and I want that for these girls."

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Forest Grove senior Abbi Klaus tries to attack the formidable Sherwood defense during their match Sept. 9 at Sherwood High School.And Brotnov? She too is excited for the remainder of her team's campaign and believes this match could be the one that launches them towards a league title and postseason run.

"We've had two losses, but I feel like at times we've played really well," the Sherwood coach said. "I think this team has the potential to go really far this year."

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