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A league championship game against Crosshill or Perrydale awaits the Bucks on Saturday in Independence

GARY ALLEN - Senior Isabelle Wyss, sporting pink hair throughout October along with her teammates for breast cancer awareness month, is a key contributor for the Bucks.

Once they finish undefeated in league with a win over C.S. Lewis Academy on Tuesday night, the St. Paul volleyball team has its sights set on another state championship. The Buckaroos (23-8, 14-0 Casco League) were ranked No. 4 in the OSAA class 1A rankings as of Tuesday morning and earned the No. 1 seed in their league's tournament.

The Casco League championship game will be played at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Central High School in Independence. St. Paul will take on either Perrydale or Crosshill Christian – neither of which won a set against the Bucks this season.

"I think the girls are definitely playing at a higher level," SPHS coach Lesli Hiller said. "They've played well as a team, really enjoyed Arizona and are enjoying being back home. The last few games, we've been able to get a lot of the players in the game who don't play much, and the starters have been really supportive of them."

A trip to Arizona for the Nike Tournament of Champions proved a significant test for St. Paul's starters as the team went 1-6 against some of the best high school squads in the country. In Oregon the Bucks are winners of eight in a row and have just two losses on the year.

A state championship run is a strong possibility for the Bucks, who went undefeated and won it all last year. Even with less experience on this year's team, they have rolled over 1A competition and even beat some 2A schools along the way.

Among 1A schools, Hiller said the Bucks are watching out for No. 1 Powder Valley (29-1) and No. 2 Days Creek (23-2) as the 1A playoffs approach. Hiller doesn't expect the road to a second title in a row to be easy, but she is confident in her team's abilities.

"I think we're definitely playing strong and have a lot of players back from last year's championship team," Hiller said. "They have a lot of experience to be in that championship game and they will handle the pressure of the postseason well. They've been there before, and we've been doing really well lately."

Four seniors were honored at St. Paul's game against Perrydale on Oct. 15: Erin Counts, Karlee Southerland, Isabelle Wyss and Destiny Smith. Hiller said the team had a private ceremony to honor the quartet of players prior to the emotional pregame ceremony that featured their families.

After graduating so many seniors last year, the Bucks lose yet another class of key contributors, three of whom played four years of varsity volleyball. Hiller said she will not forget their contributions as both mature leaders and excellent volleyball players.

"They brought a lot to our team," Hiller said. "Three out of the four have been varsity all four years, and one has a couple years. They all have taken on different roles and have done so much for this program – we wouldn't be where we're at without them. They helped build us to what we are today."

Barring an upset in the Casco League championship game, St. Paul will get a bye and host a second-round state playoff game on Nov. 2 at St. Paul High School with an opportunity to advance to the state quarterfinals. Where they are seeded remains to be seen, but the Bucks will likely be poised for another run at the title.

The state quarterfinals, semifinals and championship game will all be played at Ridgeview High School in Redmond on Nov. 8 and 9. Therein lies the opportunity for St. Paul to go back-to-back and add another trophy to its case while sending off a star-studded senior class.


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