In the seasonlong battle between two Northwest Oregon Conference volleyball titans, Wilsonville drew first blood against La Salle Prep.
On Thursday, Sept. 15, the Wildcats outlasted the Falcons for a 3-1 (19-25, 25-20, 25-16, 25-22) victory in enemy territory. Both teams entered the night undefeated on the season, but only Wilsonville could still claim a perfect record when the smoke had cleared.
It wasn't just an unblemished win-loss mark on the line, either. With these two teams looking like the class of the NWOC, this match had major ramifications for the league standings — as well as bragging rights.
"My teammates and I were super excited for this game," said Wilsonville senior middle blocker Emma Alewine. "I think it was really good for us. We needed to beat them at their home, because it's just another bonus."
Alewine and the Wildcats were not always in control of the game, however. According to fellow senior Makenna Wiepert, the Wilsonville squad may have been a little too excited coming into the match. The Falcons came out swinging and won the first set 25-19 with a vociferous student section at their backs.
"In the first set, it was rough — because this is the game," Wiepert said. "We love to play La Salle, they're great competition. I think it was shaking out the nerves a bit. After that first set, we said, 'All right, we need to play Wilsonville volleyball.'"
If the next three sets were any indication, Wilsonville volleyball is going to be tough to beat this season. The Wildcats won the next two sets 25-20 and 25-16, respectively, setting up a raucous fourth set that saw the lead go back and forth between the two teams. La Salle Prep led 11-9 at one point, then the teams were tied at 12 before Wilsonville went on a run that put them up 18-14. After the Falcons called timeout, they came out and won the next five points to take a one-point lead. Wilsonville called its own timeout, and then after some more back-and-forth action, the Wildcats called another with the score tied at 22 apiece.
"In that last timeout, we talked about how much we wanted it and how it's our game," Alewine said. "It felt like we were being hesitant, so we talked about going for the ball and wanting it. We wanted to finish aggressive, because the more aggressive team always wins the match."
That aggressiveness was evident out of that break, as the Wildcats scored the final three points of the night. The victory was capped off by a Wiepert kill that was tipped at the net and went caroming past the outstretched arm of La Salle's Olivia Maulding for the win.
"Shoot, that girl can pound a ball," Alewine said of her classmate Wiepert. There was more praise to go around from Alewine too, be it for Ashlyn Hartman and Kaylee Dresser's work on the outside, the passing and back-row play from Ella Hubka and Mary Matthews, or the performance of her fellow middle blocker, Olivia Lyons.
"It was really cool to see," Alewine added. "We all wanted the ball. It wasn't like we were scared — we wanted it."
With the victory, Wilsonville now stands alone atop the NWOC standings at 5-0 in league games and 9-0 overall. Right behind them are the Falcons of La Salle Prep, whose 5-1 league record is good for a second-place tie with Putnam, although their 7-1 overall mark is slightly better. Expect both the Wildcats and Falcons to keep adding wins to the ledger for the next month in the run-up to their rematch Monday, Oct. 17, in Wilsonville. Though there is a lot of volleyball to be played before then, that October matchup could end up being for all the NWOC marbles.
"Our confidence is going to stay high," Alewine said. "Our confidence was high coming in, it's high coming out and it'll be high going into other games."
"We just need to make sure we play our game on our side of the net," Wiepert added. "(La Salle is) a great team. We need to respect them and play how we know how to play."
As for the Falcons' star player, Maulding, she is equally excited about the rematch.
"We are really looking forward to when we get to play them (in Wilsonville)," Maulding said.
In fact, the senior middle blocker admitted that she was not terribly disheartened by the loss — perhaps even happy about it.
"I have to be completely honest," Maulding said. "I'm glad we lost that game. It showed us what we have to work on, which is serve-receive, defense and attacking from the service line.
"I think losing that game showed us the next step in the right direction," she added. "Our goal isn't to be the best right now; it's to be the best at the end of the year."
Of course, Maulding and the Falcons are not alone in that goal. Wilsonville also is chasing a state title, especially after falling in the last two championship games in 2019 and 2021.
"We want state, and we want to win it," said Alewine bluntly. "We want it so bad."
However, before either team can worry about how they finish at state, they have plenty of league games left in front of them.
And after Thursday night's battle, it's as apparent as ever: the NWOC will almost assuredly come down to Wilsonville and La Salle Prep.
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