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The Bowmen are again atop the Pacific Conference standings and are shooting for a deep playoff run.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Sherwood junior Caitlin Kirkpatrick goes up for a kill during the Bowmen's straight set win over Newberg last season. The Bowmen are undefeated in league play thus far this season.If you're looking for who's atop the Pacific Conference volleyball standings, you don't have to look beyond Sherwood, because for the second straight season, the Lady Bowmen are setting a standard that the rest of the league simply hasn't met.

Sherwood is 10-3 overall, undefeated in Pacific Conference play, and has lost but one set to a league foe in six matches to this point.

Bowmen head coach Jenette Brotnov hasn't been surprised by her team's performance. After all, many of these student athletes were part of last year's playoff run.

"It helps that we return pretty much all of our starting eight from last year," Brotnov said. "That's pretty important to start the season and I think last year's success with this group has helped us this year too."

The Bowmen defeated St. Mary's Academy in the first round of last year's playoffs before losing an excruciating five-set second-round match to Sprague.

Brotnov said that defeat inspired this year's team to be even better this season, and despite a couple early losses to two of the state's better teams — Jesuit and Westview — they feel they're in fact better equipped to compete with elite competition this season.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Sherwood's Caitlin Kirkpatrick during the Bowmen's state playoff game with Sprague last season. Kirkpatrick is a key contributor for Sherwood this season."We were in the Jesuit game to start the year," the coach said. "We won the first two sets and lost the last three, so we were in that game, and it was a good start to our season showing that we can compete with a top team. That's important for us with our league being a little on the lighter side."

And the league has struggled. Beyond the Bowmen, only Newberg is inside the top 26 in the OSAA state rankings, and last season, out of the league's four qualifiers, only Sherwood advanced beyond the state playoffs' first round.

Brotnov said — maybe due to a bit of complacency — the team does at times tend to relax, but when it matters most, they meet the challenge before them.

"This group really does perform against top teams," she said. "We always struggle a little bit with teams that are a bit slower offensively, but we always step it up when it comes down to the matches that count."

The Bowmen are led by top hitter Emily Fulton, co-captain libero Sidney Knowles, and junior setter Hannah Brown, whom Brotnov said she believes is arguably the best at her position in the state.

The coach also mentioned junior outside hitter Campbell O'Connell as someone who's elevated her game this season, especially in recent weeks with a somewhat depleted lineup.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Sherwood's Aria Birdsong attacks the net during the Bowmen's second round playoff loss to Sprague last season. Birdsong is a key contributor for the Bowmen this season."She's really stepped up in a big way," Brotnov said. "At our state preview event, one of our outside players was not playing front row, and Campbell stepped into that role and got a ton of kills for us."

Brotnov said that that versatility, along with the team's ability to work well with one another, is one of their biggest strengths.

"They really know how to pick each other up when they're down," the coach said. "They have a great fight in them and want to win games, but they want to do it together, and that's a great strength."

With that said, Sherwood knows wins will not come easy and is taking nothing for granted. Despite having lost just four sets in their last 18 league matches, the Bowmen are focused on winning the Pacific Conference championship and hopefully making a run in this year's state playoffs — but their coach might have bigger things in mind.

"Obviously, a league title again is a goal for these girls, and it's within their reach," Brotnov said. "They have a few teams to get through first, but that's their goal, along with making it to the third round of playoffs. But they've set their goals pretty low, in my opinion."

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