After earning a 3-0 road sweep at Forest Grove Sept. 18, the Newberg volleyball team hosted a familiar opponent Sept. 20 for the final game of its first run through the Pacific Conference schedule.
The Tigers had played McMinnville twice at the Tualatin tournament the preceding weekend, losing to the Grizzlies in pool play but winning the rematch 2-0 in bracket play Sept. 15.
Their third meeting felt like two different games in one as Newberg won the first set 25-22 before McMinnville roared back with 25-12 and 25-13 victories to go up 2-1. But much like the weekend result, the Tigers got the last laugh, taking the fourth game 29-27 and the fifth 15-5 for a dramatic 3-2 win.
"We played as one and kept it through the fifth set," senior outside hitter Giselle Benetti said. "I'm glad we all came together and fought to the end. That was really good."
NHS coach MacKenzie Upchurch said she was pleased to see the team close out Forest Grove in three sets in their first match of the week, winning 25-23, 25-22, 25-17. Benetti, who has been the team's top scorer all season, had a monster game offensively, slamming 20 kills with a 0.347 hitting percentage, but also had a solid 2.61 grade on her passing.
"She's got the best speed on the ball, but she's also matured into a player where her shot selection is a lot better," Upchurch said. "Instead of swinging at every ball, she'll wait and she's become much more patient in waiting for the best opportunities to strike."
Sophomore Brynna Geibel added eight kills and setter Lauren Griswold was sharp in directing the offense, finishing with 42 assists.
"Lauren has done a really good job of moving the ball but also moving the ball away from the play, which has thrown people off," Upchurch said. "If we can move the block, we have a lot better chance to score."
Newberg closed the opening set versus McMinnville on a 4-1 run to win 25-22, but fell behind early in the second and third sets and struggled to get its energy back up and slow the Grizzlies' momentum.
The Tigers were much better in the fourth, using an 8-2 run to pull ahead 16-9, and even led 20-12 before McMinnville answered with a rally of their own to pull level at 22-22. The teams fought through several long and exciting points, playing to draws at 25-25, 26-26 and 27-27 before Newberg got back-to-back kills to end it, the last coming from Geibel.
"I think the communication got better," Upchurch said. "We relied heavily on our defense. We are a defensive team, but I think the change was really focusing on getting our offense going and to score points. There were a lot of times when we put the ball back over just to reset. Something that we frequently do is rely on the defense to keep the rally going until we have a shot or an opportunity to score. Really focusing on getting our hitters involved was important."
Tori Peterson helped the Tigers keep the momentum going early in the fifth set, scoring a pair of blocks and a kill as NHS went up 5-2. The home side took advantage of some errors by the Grizzlies to pull ahead 9-4 and lost just one point the rest of the way.
"Last year we maybe gave up at the end and I think this year, as a team, we've all come in as one and we're finishing. I think that will carry us the rest of the way. If we figure out the mental game, bring the energy and quickness that will get us through."
The Tigers (5-5, 3-2 Pacific Conference) went on to play in the Oregon City tournament over the weekend, where they were eliminated by Tualatin 25-22, 25-22 in bracket play, but put more emphasis on their league games. Last week's sweep moved them into fourth place ahead of a key match versus Glencoe (7-4) Tuesday, which entered that contest in a three-way tie for first along with fellow 4-1 squads Sherwood (7-3) and Liberty (7-4).
Newberg will then begin the second half of its league slate with a home contest at 6:45 p.m. Thursday versus the Falcons, who won the first meeting 3-1 Sept. 4.
"I hope (these wins) will carry us to league the second time through," Benetti said. "I think we're all in it as one and hopefully that will continue and move us up and into playoffs."