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The Tigers lose to their Yamhill County rivals before participating in the Westview Tournament

GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Senior Becca Upchurch lauded her team's persistence after a loss to McMinnville on Thursday.

MCMINNVILLE – Facing a large, noisy crowd at its archrivals' gym on Thursday, the Newberg volleyball team likely knew a significant road test was ahead. The players on the court for the McMinnville Grizzlies proved to be formidable as well, and it was the home team that ended up prevailing in a competitive four-set match.

McMinnville won 25-22, 21-25, 25-13, 25-22 in the Pacific Conference bout, bringing its record to 4-1 in conference and 5-5 overall before a loss to non-league Wilson in the Westview Tournament.

Newberg, meanwhile, fell to 3-2 in conference and split a pair of games at the Westview Tournament – a win over Pendleton and a loss to Mountainside – to get to an overall record of 10-5.

Between the lines on Thursday, the full breadth of the Highway 99W rivalry was on display. The Grizzlies got out to a 5-0 lead early in the first set behind the roars of its crowd, but the Tigers fought back and tied it up, 13-13.GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN -  With senior Tori Petersen looking on, junior Brynna Geibel goes for the ball.

Newberg eventually led 18-16, but a strong finish to the set resulted in a 25-22 McMinnville victory.

The second set was marked by a strong start from Newberg at 14-9 Tigers before a timeout by Mac. The Grizzlies rallied to knot it at 17-17, but Newberg doubled them up the rest of the way to capture a 25-21 second-set victory.

Just when momentum appeared to be on the Tigers' side, it all fell apart in the third set. McMinnville led by as much as 17-5 in the third before cruising to a 25-13 victory brought on by a litany of unforced errors from Newberg.

A back-and-forth final set saw Newberg and McMinnville exchange the lead time and again, but the Grizzlies prevailed 25-22 thanks to some brilliant play around the net, sending Newberg home as 3-1 losers.

Despite the result, NHS coach Mackenzie Upchurch was largely positive in the aftermath of Thursday's game. She lauded the effort of her senior-laden squad and saw plenty of signs of improvement.

"We played really well, but we could have been more consistent – especially in that third set where we struggled," she said. "I think it was as competitive as what we expected – really good volleyball. We have some opportunities to improve our block coverage and eliminate unforced errors. If we're not serving aggressively, it causes us problems."

A diamond in the at-times rough match for Newberg was freshman outside hitter Sophia Gregoire-Salagean, whose thunderous spikes and whip-quick serves were a key factor in Newberg's second-set victory and overall competitive performance.

Upchurch said Gregoire-Salagean is a "sponge" with the more experienced girls on the team and displays plenty of skill and athleticism.

From Gregoire-Salagean's perspective, it's a lot of fun contributing to the varsity team, but it also includes a lot of pressure.

"It's kind of overwhelming at times, but once you get into the game you focus and block everything out," she said. "The seniors help me so much – I would be really stressed without them and they help me be who I am."

The welcoming atmosphere around the team has allowed Gregoire-Salagean to grow and develop quickly, she said. A close-knit group of eight seniors has a lot of experience playing together on club and varsity teams, but they're happy to bring a talented freshman into the fold.

Upchurch's daughter Becca, a senior, said the connection between many in the senior class shows itself on the court – and is a big reason why the Tigers are in district title contention.

They're likely going to need revenge against McMinnville on Oct. 22 to have a shot at the Pacific Conference crown, but for now they're taking Thursday's loss as a learning experience.

"When we're down, we stick together as a team and push through," Becca Upchurch said. "That third set was a good example of us fighting really hard to get the score back to what it ended up being. Going forward, we have to come back from our losses.

"We lost against Sherwood and Mac, but we have to take what we've learned from those losses and apply them to our other league games."

Gregoire-Salagean echoed her teammate's sentiments as she looked ahead to the Tigers' future contests:

"We're really good at lifting each other up, and that's something we definitely have to do in these next few games."

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