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The 2019 champion Crusaders complete unbeaten season by sweeping previously unbeaten West Linn.

COURTESY PHOTO: OSAATODAY - This set from Alison Buchholz in the third set helped break open a tie game on the way to Jesuit's sweep of West Linn at West Linn High School on Wednesday, Apil 7.The Jesuit volleyball team finished the 2021 season right where it finished the 2019 season — on top.

The Crusaders, the 2019 Class 6A state champions, used their dominance in the middle, the incredible all-around play of senior setter/right-side hitter Alison Buchholz and superior ball control to sweep previously unbeaten West Linn 27-25, 25-12, 25-18 at West Linn High School on Wednesday, April 7.

The win came on the heels of Jesuit's three-set Tuesday win over Central Catholic, the team the Crusaders defeated for the 2019 state title.

West Linn, which finished fifth in 2019, also defeated Central — which had been undefeated before this week — on Monday, April 4. The Lions (11-1) previously beat Canby — which placed third in 2019 — twice.

There may not have been an actual 6A state tournament this year, but by defeating Central and West Linn on consecutive nights, the Crusaders earned the right to be called the presumptive champions.

Junior Tess Masingale was unstoppable for Jesuit. Taking sets from Buchholz and senior Peyton Griffin, the 6-foot, 3-inch middle blocker finished with a team-high 14 kills. Fellow senior middle Maddy Dowdall added eight kills and four blocks.

"We knew that going in we had an advantage in the middle," said longtime Jesuit coach Teresa Zimmerlee. "It's nice to have two middles like we have. Our middles had a good game."

It took a while for Jesuit to get its middles involved, however. That's because the Crusaders' vaunted defense struggled for the better part of the first set. West Linn came out serving aggressively behind senior setter Kate Griffin, and its crisp passing allowed the Lions to use its superior outside hitters — junior Emily Warmenhoven and senior Audra Wilmes — to score again and again.

Griffin's dump, which ended a spirited rally, gave West Linn its largest lead of the set at 18-10 and prompted Jesuit to call its second timeout. Following the timeout, Jesuit set Masingale for a quick attack, her second kill of the match. That seemed to spark the Crusaders. Behind junior Harper Buchholz's strong serving, Jesuit scored on consecutive back row block calls, as West Linn's ball control started to break down.

The Lions tried to hang on and earned a set point on Warmenhoven's eighth kill, but Jesuit would not relent. A Masingale tip tied the set at 24-24 and the Crusaders eventually converted their second set point on a kill by sophomore outsider hitter Isabel Patterson, a blast that West Linn senior libero Lily Snook dug, but which the Lions could not control.

Jesuit's dominance in the middle continued into the next two sets. Combined with passing woes by West Linn, the Lions struggled to stay in the match. West Linn coach Emilie Wilmes said that too many close calls that favored Jesuit contributed to her team's downfall.

"When the calls are all going one way, it gets demoralizing," Wilmes said. "They felt helpless and stressed. It turned into a momentum game."

Jesuit never trailed in winning the second set 25-12. Masingale and Dowdall teamed for nine kills for Jesuit, many on sets from Alison Buchholz.

"Alison Buchholz has been on fire," Zimmerlee said. "She was everywhere tonight."

Jesuit's defense also stepped up in a big way. Junior libero Maisie Alexander, junior defensive specialist Hannah Nguyen and senior outside hitter Amanda Henry played flawlessly in the back.

The point Jesuit won at 17-8 summed up the set perfectly. Griffin sent a darting serve over the net, but Henry passed perfectly to Alison Buchholz, who then fed Dowdall in the middle for the definitive putaway.

"We had to settle down," Zimmerlee said. "Once we settled down and passed, that was the key."

The third set featured better play from West Linn, but the winning formula for Jesuit was the same: a distinct advantage in the middle and strong work on the defensive end.

Griffin served two aces as part of a 3-0 run to open the set for West Linn, but Jesuit answered with a 6-0 run on Dowdall's serve. West Linn fought back to tie the set at 9-9 on a kill and block from senior Rayna Reynolds, but a sensational one-handed set from Alison Buchholz to Masingale gave Jesuit the lead for good.

The Crusaders tacked on eight of the next nine points — which included a terrific Henry save and a scintillating back row swing — to win.

Jesuit senior Peyton Griffin added an ace during the run, her fifth of the match. Fellow senior Ava Valentine, a backup setter, made a dig that led directly to Masingale's 14th kill of the match and gave Jesuit a 23-18 lead. A Dowdall block and final back row block call, in rapid succession, ended the set and gave Jesuit the sweep.

Warmenhoven finished with a match-high 15 kills for West Linn, while Audra Wilmes added nine. The Lions also got nice work from setters Griffin and Shealyn Cecil, and Snook was relentless on defense.

"It was a game of momentum," Emilie Wilmes said. "We win that first set and it's a completely different game."

John Tawa writes for OSAAtoday.

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