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For second straight year, St. Paul's title hopes are dashed by Warriors; Bucks face Rogue Valley Adventist for third

PMG PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - St. Pauls Halsie Hempfling rises up for the kill against Powder Valley in the quarterfinal matchup. While the Bucks defeated Powder Valley 3-0, they were downed by North Douglas 3-1 in the semifinals.

After defeating a very game Powder Valley 3-0 at 10 a.m. on Nov. 4, St. Paul's volleyball team turned its attention to the semifinals and a familiar foe in North Douglas later that evening.

In a four-set battle, North Douglas defeated St. Paul 3-1 (25-15, 25-19, 20-25, 25-19). It marked the second time in consecutive seasons that the Bucks had their title aspirations dashed by the Warriors. In the 2021 championship game, North Douglas defeated St. Paul 3-1 (25-22, 18-25, 25-7, 25-17) to claim the 1A crown.

St. Paul, a team that had its eye on the championship all season long, wasn't overlooking the North Douglas side in their semifinal clash, according to coach Lesli Hiller. North Douglas was just that good on the night.

"We knew who their good hitters were and they showed us they were good hitters, we were trying to stop them with blocks and trying to keep them out of system, they were just very strong," Hiller said. "They were stronger than I've ever seen them play, and I've scouted a lot of their games."

After dropping the first set 25-15, St. Paul battled back from a 19-8 deficit to go on a late run in the second set. At another point the Bucks trailed 22-11 but finished the second set down 25-19. The Bucks trailed 2-0.

The third set saw the best volleyball of the match from St. Paul. The two teams went back and forth throughout the early part of the set, but the Bucks took a slight lead and never let go. Powerful hitting and big blocks in the middle helped decide the third stanza, but North Douglas was never too far out of the equation.

The fourth and final set saw the Warriors claim the momentum and cede none of it.

"I think strongly they had the momentum after the match," Hiller said. "We had times where we were able to come back, but we were constantly having to come back. That's just one of those things where, with the wrong team, and they were the wrong team, they just took hold of that and went with it. Got a lot of momentum and kept it going."

The Bucks were out of the title hunt, but they were one of three 1A teams who had the opportunity end their season on a win. St. Paul matched up with Rogue Valley Adventist Academy in the third-place match at Redmond High School.

Despite the heartbreaking loss, St. Paul still had a chance at victory.

"They can decide whether they want to end on a win or a loss," Hiller said. "You have to get them motivated to realize that they would rather end on a win. They want to finish proud and happy with their ending."

The team chose victory.

The Buckaroos won a nailbiter against the Hawks, 3-1 (25-18, 25-20, 24-26, 30-28). That third set saw the team rally from 19-11 down to end the year on a high note.

PMG PHOTO: TANNER RUSS - St. Pauls Anabelle Davidson goes for the tip against Powder Valley in the Bucks 3-0 sweep of the Badgers.

"It was just all calm, heart, they just owned the game, played everywhere," Hiller said after the teams 28th victory. "They wanted it and they showed it. At the end of the game, all three of our seniors were on the court in their normal substitution lineups and everything. Anabelle Davidson had the winning kill. It was just the perfect scenario. We had incredible play out of every single player, our setter did an amazing job…Great serving in the end, we weren't missing serves trying to catch up, we just kept it in play. It was very clean the last half of the game. They stayed calm and they owned it. Just an amazing match, I'm so proud of them."

In the third place matchup, junior Gracie Koch had 31 assists with two blocks; Davidson had six kills and seven blocks; Stella Koch had 11 kills, seven blocks and six digs; Audra Rose had 14 kills and eight blocks; and Halsie Hempfling, Frankie Lear, and Isla Haven were a serving force.

St. Paul finished the season 28-6 overall and got a couple of individual distinctions at the culmination of the 1A tournament. Junior Stella Koch was named first team all-tournament, and sophomore Audra Rose was named second team all-tournament.

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