St. Helens won their first five-set match all season, and it couldn't have come at a better time

by: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - St. Helens teammates meet in the middle of the court to celebrate, seconds after pulling off a miraculous 19-17 win in the 5th set. It was just their second time playing in a fifth set all season, and their first victory.The Lions got down to business when it counted most, winning their volleyball playoff match over Mountain View on Saturday afternoon in exhilarating fashion 25-15, 25-10, 18-25, 23-25, 19-17.

The win locks up a spot in the championship tournament at Liberty High School on Nov. 8. St. Helens will play Willamette on Friday afternoon at 3:15 p.m. With a win, the Lions would play once more at 8:30 p.m. with a chance to play in Saturday’s final.

Getting there, as it turns out, won’t be quite as easy as the third-ranked Lions might have guessed. After taking the first set from the Cougars with ease, St. Helens scored the first nine points of the second set thanks to stellar serving from senior Kylie Reinholdt. The visitors were rattled, and out of sorts. Though they picked up a few points here and there, the 25-10 win was almost an understatement of how lopsided the set looked.

For Mountain View, things were a little dreary at this point. No one could seem to stop St. Helens’ duo of hitters, Gabby Susee and Taylor Albertson. On offense, the Cougars routinely hit into the waiting hands of the Lion blockers or into the net. However, those problems ended with the second game.

Perhaps the Lions got comfortable, or maybe the Cougars finally arrived, but whatever head coach Jill Mckae said to her team after the second set, it worked.

Mountain View started hitting around the St. Helens blockers, taking advantage of a sparse back line and forcing the Lions to dive at balls for a chance at a wild rally. The Lions’ defensive efforts only worked a portion of the time, and all of the sudden, St. Helens found themselves facing an even match heading to a decisive fifth game.

“The first two games, we passed well, and you can by the scores. In the second two games we quit talking. We’ve got to fix that,” said Lion coach Tom Ray. “You notice they got real quiet on the court. When they’re fired up, they play well.”

by: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - Senior hitter Gabby Susee reacts to a kill in the fifth set. In the final game, everything changed. For the first time, everyone - including the team’s biggest guns - were focused in, fighting for every last point. The Lions jumped out to a 6-3 lead, but once more Mountain View refused to go quietly. A quick rally put the Cougars on top 7-6, and the set stayed within a point the rest of the way.

Tied at 12, a big hit from Susee gave the Lions an advantage, but Mountain View responded to take a narrow lead of their own. A few minutes later the Cougars had St. Helens against the wall, leading 16-15. Mountain View had fought bravely, and answered every Lion challenge. This late in the match, it seemed the underdogs might walk away with a massive upset.

“All I could think about was the state tournament,” said Susee, who dropped to her knees and cried out with each point the Lions won.

Trailing 16-15 late in the fifth set, and with only one more point to end a magical season, senior Madion Kaplan stepped to the line, serving to keep her team’s championship hopes alive.

“Honestly,” she said, “that was the scariest moment of my volleyball career.”

Despite her nerves, Kaplan’s aim held true. The Cougars returned the ball, but Albertson’s kill tied the game once again at 16. Mountain View scored again, but a response and two points later, the Lions were playing to win. The pass went to the hand of sophomore hitter Logan Kalauli, who sent it over the net and put the finishing touches on a wild victory.

For the Lions, it is the first time they’ve won in five sets all season long. The only other five-set match was a painful loss to Wilsonville on Oct. 15. Kaplan said facing adversity and coming out on top are priceless for a team who has 15 straight-set victories on their record.

“We had to fight. We’ve had some fights, but that was a huge fight,” she said. “We had to come together as a team and come out of that hole. I feel like that gives us so much momentum.”

The momentum will be tested Friday afternoon against No. 6 Willamette, whose only two league losses came at the hands of No. 2 Churchill.

The complete bracket and schedule of matches, visit the OSAA website.

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