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Tiger volleyball squad picks up key victory to get over .500 on season, 2-1 in Pacific Conference play

PMG FILE PHOTO - The NHS Tigers earned a three-set victory over Liberty on Thursday evening, raising their conference record to 2-1.

HILLSBORO — Coming into Thursday night's game on the road at league foe Liberty, the Newberg High School volleyball team was on a two-game losing skid. 

The Tigers (4-3, 2-1 Pacific Conference) got back on track with a largely dominant effort against the Falcons (4-5, 1-3), winning in three sets.

"I think overall, it was the difference between coming out complacent and figuring out how we really should play together," first-year NHS coach Thomas Salness said. "We played as a unit and focused on getting into our rhythm. It's about finding out rhythm and playing our type of ball. That's the difference."

Down 5-2 early in the first set, Newberg struggled with a handful of unforced errors. Late in the set, Liberty led 20-17, forcing a Newberg timeout. That timeout proved valuable as the Tigers finished off the set on an 8-3 run fueled by strong play around the net, taking the first set 25-23.

The second set proved to be the turning point. Newberg won 25-15, showcasing its communication skills and being led by star junior outside hitter Sophia Gregoire-Salagean — a verbal commit to the University of Oregon.

"I think everyone knows what she can do athletically in terms of putting the ball down, serving and passing," Salness said. "Her big thing this year is learning how to lead verbally, too, and trying to get the team to be behind her as a leader. It's not just about the physical side, which we all know she's incredible at, and I think growing as a leader is important for her as she gets into that upperclassman level in her career."

As the match progressed, Newberg's fun-loving attitude and camaraderie with one another showed itself during timeouts and brief breaks. Players danced to the music playing over the speakers, laughed and remained loose. And they still dominated the competition.

"It's a group of girls that have been together for a while," Salness said. "They play and hang out outside of school, and they're just good friends. We try to build that uplifting and encouraging mindset in this program, and these girls make it easy. We're here to have fun, and we love the game of volleyball. It's why we compete for each other."

Set number three was more of the same for the Tigers as they pulled away early and didn't look back, earning a 25-16 win to complete a 3-0 drubbing of the Falcons.

Newberg looks ahead to the Canby tournament on Sept. 18, followed by a home game against Century on Sept. 20. After that, the Tigers travel to face rival McMinnville on Sept. 22.

"I think we've got a few things to figure out," Salness said. "It's a transition for me as a coach into this new role, and I think it's a transition for some of the players to the varsity level. It's a faster-paced game. Once we calm down and play together as a unit, and play our game, I think we'll continue to have success on the court."

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