High school volleyball: No. 5 Nelson slips past No. 4 Oregon City
Adrienne C. Nelson High School is only in its second year of existence, but the Hawks are still in the running for a state championship.
The No. 5 Nelson Hawks volleyball team defeated No. 4 Oregon City in four sets (25-19, 27-25, 21-25, 25-23) on Friday morning, Nov. 4, in the quarterfinal round of the OSAA 6A Volleyball State Championship tournament at Forest Grove High School. After Nelson won the opening two sets to take control of the game, the Pioneers responded by taking the third set. The Hawks were able to outlast Oregon City in the fourth set, though, and now they will move on to face No. 1 Jesuit in the semifinals Friday night at 6:30 p.m. in Forest Grove.
It was a high-level match between two of the state's best programs, said Nelson head coach Lisa Flaherty-McBee.
"Oregon City brings power, consistency and they have really incredible hitters who can get the job done and put the ball down on the ground," said Flaherty-McBee. "We had to work hard the whole time to read that hitter, get your defense in the right place, and get the ball up on our side to get a playable ball. We were working really hard to make sure was finding the hitters and getting that job done."
While the match may have started bright and early at 8 o'clock Friday morning, Nelson was able to shake off the cobwebs more quickly than their counterparts from Oregon City.
"I forgot it was 8 a.m. if I'm being honest," said Nelson senior Kali Lukovich, who had 24 kills in the Hawks' win. "I think that the adrenaline really came in for all of us. None of us have played at a state tournament before."
The scene at Forest Grove High School was an intense one, with No. 1 Jesuit and No. 9 Sprague playing simultaneously just feet away from the Hawks and Pioneers. Jesuit brought the biggest fanbase to Forest Grove, but the Hawks were able to turn that into a mental advantage for their own team.
"All of us have been talking about that mental piece — it's going to be loud, and there's going to be a lot of people cheering, but not for you," Lukovich noted. "Just pretend like all that energy is for your team and they're cheering you on."
Lukovich added: "We didn't let anyone else determine how we played and kept everything in our control."
Nelson kept a tight grip on the match even after winning the first two sets, taking a 6-0 lead at the beginning of the third set. However, that's when Oregon City finally woke up.
"We picked up our serve-receive, and it made all the difference," said Oregon City head coach Erica Frafjord of how the Pioneers grabbed momentum in that set. "When we can pass well, we can run our offense — and we've got an effective offense when we pass well, so we just turned it up and were able to make some adjustments."
After trailing 11-5 in that set, the Pioneers won 14 of the next 17 points to take the lead and eventually won the set 25-21 on the strength of sophomore Paige Thies, who had nine of her match-leading 27 kills in the third set.
With the match a 2-1, though, it was Nelson's turn to buckle down in the fourth set.
"I was just telling everyone, 'Play our game,'" said Lukovich of what went on in the huddle after dropping their first of the playoffs. "In practices and in normal games, we've been playing so well. That (third set) was not how we normally play, so the big piece was just going back to basics and controlling the pace of the game."
Flaherty-McBee had similar advice for her team going into the fourth set.
"We really needed to literally take a deep breath, let it out and get back to work," said the head coach. "It was a great experience in a lot of ways, because then we went, 'You know what? You can't let this happen.' You've got to lean into each other, lean into the struggle, and really gain energy out of that."
Nelson did just that, jumping out to an 8-5 lead before keeping the Pioneers at arm's reach for the rest of the set. Oregon City started to mount a comeback late, bringing the score within a point at 24-23. However, Oregon City senior libero Sam Keightley couldn't get her serve over the net, and just like that, the Hawks were moving on to the semifinal.
Now, Nelson prepares for the biggest test in its school's short history: trying to solve No. 1 Jesuit for a chance to reach the state championship match.
"Once they step out onto the court, it's a puzzle that they need to figure out," said Flaherty-McBee of how she has her team thinking about the semifinal with Jesuit. "That's one of the most beautiful things about volleyball: it's absolute teamwork, just playing together and figuring it out."
"We've played them before and we know how they play, where their spots are," said Lukovich of preparing to face the Crusaders. "We have film on them, so we know some of their weaknesses, too."
As for Oregon City, the Pioneers will look to stay in the running for a fifth-place trophy in the consolation semifinals at 8 a.m. Saturday morning, Nov. 5. Oregon City will face No. 9 Sprague, which won the first two sets over Jesuit before the Crusaders came storming back to win a fifth-set tiebreaker. Both Sprague and Oregon City will need to shake off the disappointment they are feeling on Friday in order to finish the season on a high note Saturday.
"We're just going to regroup, play our game, and we will come back ready to go tomorrow for another early game," said Frafjord.
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