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Defending Class 5A champion Spartans feature reigning player of the year as they play host to St. Helens in state volleyball first round

The St. Helens High volleyball team is headed to the Willamette Valley for a challenging first-round match in the Oregon School Activities Association Class 5A playoffs.

The Lions will take on a familiar foe — the defending state champion Corvallis Spartans -- at noon Saturday at Corvallis High.

Corvallis launched its postseason a year ago with a 3-0 victory at home over St. Helens in the first round. And the Spartans went on to win the 2018 title in style, finishing 25-2 after sweeping Dallas in the semifinals and Ridgeview in the finals.

Corvallis has a solid history in volleyball. The Spartans were third in state in 2017, when they went 20-5, and fifth in 2016, when they were 24-4.

Corvallis' recent success has come under coach Steve Hyre, a retired teacher who came to Corvallis as junior varsity coach in 2013 and took over the Spartans' program in 2015, after coaching at South Albany and then as an assistant for six years at West Albany.

Corvallis' 2019 team is led by 5-11 outside hitter Ryann Gregg, a University of Portland-bound senior, and senior middle blocker Nevaeh Bray. Gregg was the 5A state player of the year in 2018 and is likely to be named first-team all-state for the third year in a row.

Hyre is Gregg's grandfather, and she is the daughter of former major league pitcher Kevin Gregg, a Corvallis alum, and Nicole Gregg, who is Hyre's daughter and an assistant coach with the Spartans.

PMG PHOTO: STEVE BRANDON - Coach Tom Ray has the St. Helens Lions into the volleyball postseason for the 20th year in a row."They're pretty solid," St. Helens coach Tom Ray said of the Spartans, "but we keep improving, so that's what I'm looking forward to."

Corvallis' strong hitting means "we need to block, and our back row needs to play well," Ray said. "If we can get some blocks, I think our offense will take care of itself."

Ray said he believes his team will go to Corvallis with more confidence this year than it had a year ago.

"We're getting better, and we haven't peaked yet," he said.

Corvallis "was really solid last year, and the match went really quick (25-14, 25-10, 25-6), but they lost some key players and aren't as strong this year."

St. Helens, which has been to the postseason in all of Ray's 20 seasons as coach, has a history of playing tough opponents in the playoffs. In 2017, the Lions lost to Bend in the play-in round, and Bend went on to win the state championship.

This year, the Lions took third place in the Northwest Oregon Conference. They were 10-4 in league, behind Wilsonville (14-0) and La Salle Prep (12-2).

All four of St. Helens' league losses came against those two teams. They ran the table against the other five schools, going 30-4 in sets in those 10 victories.

Parkrose (8-6) took fourth in the NWOC to grab the league's final state playoff berth.

Overall, St. Helens went 12-8 and finished the regular season ranked 13th by the OSAA out of 32 Class 5A teams.

Corvallis is ranked fourth. The Spartans tied West Albany for first place in the Mid-Willamette Conference; both were 15-1 in league play. West Albany, ranked third in the state, got the higher state seed. Corvallis and West Albany split two matches, each sweeping the other with a road victory.

Corvallis was 16-4 overall. The Spartans' 3-0 win against West Albany on Oct. 15 was the start of Corvallis' current five-game win streak, all by sweep.

St. Helens and Corvallis had one common opponent this season. The Lions beat North Salem 2-0 in a tournament at Liberty High on Oct. 12. The Spartans swept North Salem twice in league matches.

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