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The Valiants were unable to stop the Cougar offense, to face off against Philomath

PMG PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - Valley Catholic's Fran Eisenhardt goes up for the kill against Cascade in the state semifinals.CORVALLIS, Ore. — It was a tough outing for the Valley Catholic Valiants in the state semifinals.

The No. 3-ranked team in the state coming into the playoffs ran into an immovable object in the Cascade Cougars, dropping the semifinal match 3-0 by scores of 25-19, 25-21, and 25-23. It was a bitter defeat for the Valiants, who had previously defeated Cascade at the Sisters Tournament back on Saturday, Sept. 18.

It's been since the Sisters Tournament that Valley Catholic has been without one of its offensive weapons, junior outside hitter Naima Foster. In that time, Valley Catholic head coach Becky Kemper tried various things to make up for the offense lost, and ultimately moved lefty junior Abby Berndt to Foster's role.

"Abby, who had only been playing right side for us and had not even been playing that much, we tried putting her on the outside, and now she's playing all the way around," Kemper said.

"That's huge for us. But to put someone who's never played outside, a lefty, on the outside position for the first time and for her to play the way she has for the last two weeks, it's been pretty remarkable."

Kemper's offense at the net was apparent in the rematch with Cascade, helping to dig the Valiants out of an early hole in the first set. It was, however, not enough, as the Cougars went on a 7-1 run in the middle of the set to establish a 22-12 lead. Kills from Kemper and junior Fran Eisenhardt kept Valley Catholic in it, but not for much longer. Cascade finished the first set 25-19.

In between sets, Kemper reminded her players that they had faced adversity over the course of the season and bounced back. It was time to do it again.

"Even in that first set, we were like, 'OK, let's get back in it, get the momentum, and carry it into the second set,'" Kemper said. "We thought that they weren't riding that hot hand that they were riding in those first seven points, so we just had to weather the storm, and then we were right there, point-for-point."

Valley Catholic started the second set stronger, establishing an early lead thanks to offense from Berndt and solid serving from sophomore Katiya Blas-Arellano. The Valiants led all the way out to 11-7, but Cascade would not be deterred.

The Cougars began pouring it on, getting kills from junior outside hitter Lucretia Benolken and quality serves from senior Kenna Coleman. After ceding the lead Valley Catholic would tie it up twice more, once at 13 all and once at 15 all, but they did not retake the lead. Cascade held on to win the second set 25-21 and go up 2-0.

The third and final set began in much the same way the second did. Valley Catholic jumped out to an early lead; this time however they held onto it much longer. The Valiants led by as much as 21-13, but a strong 9-1 Cascade run tied up the game at 22-22. From there, the Cougars went on to win 25-23 and sink Valley Catholic's state title aspirations.

The Valiants (19-5) had one more chance at victory, squaring off against the Philomath Warriors (12-10) in the third-place matchup Saturday, Nov. 6.

"We get an opportunity to finish with a win," Kemper said. "That's what we've got to do. We've got nothing to lose, we have to go out and lay it all out on the court. It's the last time these girls will play together; they're a close team. Nothing to lose, we've got to go out and lay it all on the court and be proud with how they've played."

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