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Tigers find themselves without star middle blocker Sophie Gregoire-Salagean, battling Bowmen with new-look offense

PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Libero Olivia Budd returns serve in the Tigers' 3-0 loss to Sherwood on Monday at home.

There were league title implications when the Newberg High volleyball team and visiting Sherwood clashed on Monday. The Tigers trailed the league-leading Bowmen by a half game going into the contest and looked to even things up at the top of the Pacific Conference.

Unfortunately for the home team, Sherwood showed up firing on all cylinders and earned a 3-0 sweep to cement themselves at the top of the conference. Newberg now finds itself 6-2 in league and 11-8 overall.

Part of the outcome was due to the Tigers missing the talents of 6-foot 3-inch senior outside hitter Sophie Gregoire-Salagean, in addition to a pair of other crucial parts of the rotation. Gregoire-Salagean collided with teammate Kara Richman over the weekend at the Westview Tournament, resulting a concussion for the former and a knee injury for the latter.PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - NHS coach Thomas Salness instructs his players during the match.

Neither has a clearcut timeline for their return to the court but Newberg coach Thomas Salness acknowledged that their absences, while impactful, were ultimately something the team would have to compete through.

"It is what it is, injuries happen, it's unavoidable, you just have to roll with the punches, and show up and play ball," he said.

While Newberg ultimately lost 3-0 (25-20, 25-15, 25-20), the score line could have been much worse. The Tigers started the first set in a 13-2 deficit, but ultimately battled back to within four by the set's end. Newberg trailed throughout most of the second set, but in the third set the team battled out ahead before ultimately succumbing to a strong Sherwood attack.

Parts of Newberg's rearranged offense came from senior rightside hitter Audrey Duckworth, who was shifted to the left of the net, and sophomore outside hitter Esther Muthiah. Both came up big at crucial moments in the three sets, stalling Sherwood momentum to get side outs.PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Kensi Erion serves during the match for primacy in the Pacific Conference on Monday.

For Salness, the rough start in the first set was just about the girls adjusting to their new roles on the court.

"I think part of it was we weren't sure if those two girls were going to be out, so we had to put in a whole different lineup that we've never used before," he said. "Girls are standing next to girls they haven't really stood next to and played next to, there were players playing different positions. I had one of my players, Kendra who's a sophomore, play middle. She's never played middle before.

"It took them a second to gel and find the confidence and realize, 'Hey we just need to show up and play ball. Once they calmed down from the 'we're scared or nervous' and realized they could play volleyball, we've been doing this for years, they got into a rhythm. Once they got over the initial weirdness, they were ready to rock and roll."

Now two games back against Sherwood, Newberg sits squarely in second place in the Pacific Conference. The team continues its second round of league play when they travel to Liberty on Wednesday. Newberg beat the Falcons 3-1 in the first go-around on Sept. 13. Sherwood (11-3) meanwhile is scheduled to host Glencoe (4-9) the same day.

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