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With one game remaining, the Tigers continue to jockey with McMinnville for Pacific Conference supremacy

GARY ALLEN - Newberg coach Mackenzie Upchurch is hoping her senior-heavy squad can make some noise in the 6A postseason after putting together an impressive conference record.

On a five-game conference win streak leading up to its Tuesday night tilt against rival McMinnville, the Newberg High School volleyball team was feeling confident. The Tigers (15-6, 8-2 Pacific Conference) were ranked No. 17 in the state prior to that game, which was played after The Graphic went to press.

NHS coach Mackenzie Upchurch said Monday that her team is playing well as it approaches the end of the 2019 regular season. With a postseason berth already clinched, the Tigers have their sights set on a conference title.

"Since reaching the midway point, we have seen a lot more consistency in the structure and discipline surrounding our game plan," Upchurch said. "We've been executing that strategy well in the second half. Relying on our defense against a hard-hitting team like McMinnville is going to be crucial. We also need to work on our offense and make sure we start strong in sets and earn our points."

The Grizzlies (12-7, 9-1) entered Tuesday night's game with the best record in the conference, having beat Newberg in four sets back on Sept. 26 in McMinnville. Upchurch anticipated the home court advantage to make a significant difference for Newberg this time around as it sought to tie McMinnville in the conference standings.

Upchurch said the Tigers' senior-heavy roster is coming into a groove as the postseason approaches. They are hoping a strong finish nets them a home game in the opening round of the class 6A playoffs.

"Our serve-receive has been really strong," Upchurch said. "Our defense has been able to cover a lot of the court, which takes pressure off our block and sets up our offense. We're really strong out of system, taking our biggest weaknesses and turning it into an opportunity."

Tuesday night also marked senior night for the Tigers, where the eight graduating players were honored for their contributions to the volleyball team. Tori Petersen, Kaylie Duckworth, Lauren Griswold, Lia Reid, Becca Upchurch, Morgan Lemen, Olivia Ranum and Madison Brumbaugh will all be departing the Newberg program once this season reaches its conclusion, and all were honored with their families in attendance on Tuesday.

"This late season run is an opportunity to send off our seniors right and thank them for their dedication to the program," Upchurch said. "It's also a chance for our younger players to develop and get a taste of state playoffs.

"This year is comparable to last year record-wise, but our level of play is really ramping up this year. We're on a three-year cycle it seems with level of play, competitiveness and development of this program."

The contributions of star freshman Sophia Gregoire-Salagean have been a crucial part of the team's success as well. Her play around the net has given the Tigers an imposing presence on defense and a powerful hitter on offense. Surrounded by seniors, Upchurch said that Gregoire-Salagean has learned a lot about the game this year as she contributes heavily.

Griswold leads the pack among the seniors, Upchurch said, providing leadership through her words and actions on the court.

"Lauren has done a really good job of executing the strategy of our games by controlling our offense," Upchurch said. "She helps determine what our offense and plays are going to be, and she's taken a vocal lead in that regard."

The Tigers' regular season finale is at 6:45 p.m. Thursday at Glencoe. Whether it's at home or on the road, their first playoff game will be on Oct. 30. If the Tigers finish in the top 16 when the final rankings are tabulated by the OSAA, they will have a home game.

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