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The Eagles supplanted the reigning 1A champions to finish the season 36-0 and walk away with volleyball hardware

PMG PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - Damascus Christian poses with their state championship bracket and trophy after defeating North Douglas 3-2. The win brought the school its first volleyball trophy.

Damascus Christian volleyball made history on Nov. 5. The Eagles came back against the North Douglas Warriors 3-2 (17-25, 17-25, 25-11, 25-15, 15-8) to claim the schools first state championship. In addition, the team finished out the season an astounding 36-0, joining 33 other volleyball teams in Oregon history to finish their championship wining seasons undefeated.

After the win, Damascus Christian coach Emily Russau was still coming to grips with the team's remarkable achievement.

"I just feel really excited and kind of like I can't believe it," Russau said. "Being down two games, it can feel discouraging, but we just told the girls that we believed in them that they could come back and win. People do it all the time. We had to come back and fight and dig deep for three sets, and that's what we did. North Douglas is a good team, and it was hard work, but dug deep and fought hard and I'm really proud of them."

North Douglas, the reigning 1A state champions, made nothing easy on the unbeaten Eagles. The Warriors jumped out to a 2-0 lead, playing hard nosed volleyball and feeding off of the sizable crowd that showed up to support them.

It was a difficult first two sets, something that Damascus Christian senior Sierra Hale acknowledged after the game. But according to her, the coaching staff calmed the team and brought them back into the game mentally.

"The first two sets I was kind of defeated feeling, I was going into it a little bit nervous," Hale said. "The crowd was so loud for the other team, and then my coach was actually like, 'Let's play Damascus volleyball.' It just really, after the first two sets, I relied on my team and I praise god for all we got to do here. We prayed so much for this opportunity, and I'm so thankful for it."

PMG PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - Damascus Christian senior Sierra Hale was named Damascus Christians player of the match, as well as first team all-tournament.

Hale was credited with 15 kills, leading fellow seniors Julia Mitchell (12) and Abbigayle Bailey (11). In addition, Hale collected five aces and a block, as well as 16 digs and 20 assists. Only Bailey had more digs with 17. Russau credited Hale, Damascus Christian's player of the match and a first-team all-tournament competitor, with being a leader on the court when her team needed her most.

"(Sierra) means a lot," Russau said. "She's put her heart and soul and time into volleyball since she was in fourth grade, playing club seasons and dedicating a lot of her time. Her work ethic gets her here, she's never lazy, she doesn't slack off, she's an excellent leader with words and actions. She leads. She led this team this weekend to the state title. She led them. She means a lot to the team."

PMG PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - The team celebrates with its supporters after defeating North Douglas in the 1A state championship game.

Stepping into a leadership role wasn't as easy as Hale made it look. It took time for her to adjust to life as the team's guiding force after older sister Savannah graduated. Hale by her own admittance doesn't like the spotlight, but something about the court is different.

"It's definitely not my strong suit," Hale said. "I definitely in general like to be more hidden, but in volleyball it just comes a little bit more naturally than in life in general because I'm more comfortable with it, and I've been playing for so long and my parents have coached me for years. My coaches have been great encouragers for that too, they were just like, 'You can do it. We know you have the skills, all you have to do is show it to your team.'"

But it wasn't a solo effort. Hale and her teammates battled back against North Douglas, finding victory just like they had 35 times before. The game-by-game approach helped to keep the Eagles focused on the game immediately ahead of them, starting way back on Sept. 9 against Valor Christian.

It was a checklist of accomplishments throughout the season.

"Our coach's husband, from the very beginning, he would tell us every game, he would say, 'One game at a time with the end goal in mind,'" Hale said. "You're 0-0 every time you start a game, just play for those sets right then and there and then you'll just keep moving along. We have in our locker room this poster board and we just wrote down all of the games we had, and after we would win them we would check them off. We had that motivate us and would just focus on the next game no matter if it was an easy game or not. We knew we had to play our game and not stoop down to anyone else's level."

Damascus Christian's run through the title culminated in beating North Douglas, but the team's run included defeating Rogue Valley Adventist Academy, Umpqua Valley Christian, Days Creek and Alsea.

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