Kennedy returns to Redmond, eyes elusive state title
The Kennedy volleyball program's two victories last week came in the same fashion as the 28 before them — high effort, strong team play, and no points surrendered without a fight.
Now it's once again off to the big show.
The No. 1 Trojans swept its two opponents last week, beating the No. 7 Delphian Dragons 3-0 (25-14, 25-11, 25-7) in the Tri-River Tournament Championship game on Oct. 29 to earn the league's top seed in the state playoffs. Kennedy followed with an equally sharp 3-0 (25-8, 25-5, 25-10) win over the Glide Wildcats in the first round of the state playoffs to return to the state quarterfinal tournament for the seventh time in the past eight seasons.
"I think it feels even better than the last few times," junior libero Hailey Arritola said. "It doesn't really get old at all, it's just super exciting."
Arritola is making her third trip to the state quarterfinal tournament, along with fellow juniors Ellie Cantu, Elise Suing and Kelsey Kleinschmit — all of whom have been with the varsity program for the past three years.
In that span, the Trojans have twice made it to the cusp of the state championship game, only to fall in five sets in the semifinals in 2017 and 2018. In total, Kennedy has made four semifinal appearances in five seasons, each time falling short of the team's ultimate goal.
Kennedy has made just one state championship appearance in volleyball program history — a 1991 second-place finish. This year's team is using its previous setbacks as learning experiences on its quest to bring the Trojans its first volleyball state title.
"I definitely think it makes us not overlook a team," Arritola said, recalling her team's five-set loss to eventual state champion Portland Christian in last year's semifinal game. "Not saying we did last year, but it keeps us on check in making sure we know that every team is beatable at any given moment, even ourselves. We just have to work up to it and play our hardest every single game."
Kennedy (30-1, 16-0 Tri-River) opens the quarterfinal tournament against a Bonanza team (21-4, 12-0 Southern Cascade) that has won 10 straight contests.
Should the Trojans prevail, it sets the team on a collision course with Portland Christian, which has won 23 straight games and sits on the same side of tournament bracket for a potential semifinal game on Friday night.
Last year's loss to the Royals included two sets that went into extra points, including the agonizing 16-14 loss in the fifth set that denied Kennedy a state title opportunity. This year, the team is feeling confident they can get over the hump.
"This year, we're putting in a lot of work in practice," senior middle blocker Sophia Carley said. "We're doing a lot of conditioning in practices toward the end of the season, and we're going to be physically ready and mentally ready." Carley was named Conference Player of the Year at the season-ending awards at Kennedy High School following the team's win over Delphian, adding another award to her trophy case that includes league and state Player of the Year honors in basketball.
"The reason I get these honors is because my teammates are so good," Carley said. "Without my team, I would not be where I am today."
In total, five of Kennedy's six starters garnered first team recognition — Carley, Cantu, Arritola, Suing and Emma Beyer. Ibeth Gomez was named to the second team and head coach Laura Beyer was named coach of the year.
"Yeah, we've lost a few key players from last year, but we've definitely gained a few, so it's awesome," Arritola said. "Emma Beyer stepped in to fill shoes and Kelsey Kleinschmit has stepped in."
Kennedy and Bonanza tip off at 4 p.m. on Friday at Redmond High School, the winner of which will advance to the semifinals at 8:30 p.m. The placement rounds of the 2A State Championship tournament will be held on Saturday.
"We can't just go into the game thinking we're going to beat anybody because everybody is going to play their best against us," Carley said. "We have to go in there with a positive attitude and play our best game like we know how."
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