Lions bear down on Tigers

Juniors Gracie Arnold, Izabell Senters and Taylor McKay cover the floor for the Lady Lions, who wrap up their regular season tonight at Siuslaw High School against the Lady Vikings. (photo by Ned Hickson/Cottage Grove Sentinel)

Cottage Grove d Junction City:

25-22, 25-17, 18-25, 25-16

Cottage Grove d Marist:

26-24, 25-21, 25-9

On Thursday (March 25), the Lady Lions took on Junction City for the second and final time this volleyball season. After losing the first match to the Tigers in five sets, Cottage Grove came back with a vengeance to defeat Junction City in four sets.

Coach Abby Ladd said that the team had been preparing for the rematch since the loss.

“We knew it was going to be a tough competition for us,” said Ladd. “With every game and every practice, we’ve been preparing to play Junction City again.”

A large part of the reason the Lions needed the win so badly is due to the way postseason play is being handled — only the league champions are guaranteed a trip to state.

“We knew we needed to beat them to even have a chance,” explained Ladd. “We also knew that we needed to at worst beat them in four [sets], so that if there wasn’t time for a tiebreaker, we would take the win, because we would have lost in five and then won in four.

“So, in case it got down to not having time for a tiebreaker, we would have beat them faster than they beat us.”

With their eyes on the post-season prize, the Lady Lions went into the game with the Tigers at full throttle.

“I think they did a good job of playing well mentally in the game,” said Ladd, “which is where we really lacked the first time that we played them; we let them get in our heads and affect the way that we were playing.”

In this match, the Lionesses would flip the script.

“Instead, we tried to get in their heads and affect the way they were playing… put pressure on them and make them call timeouts,” Ladd said. “We played for momentum, and we played to keep the momentum rather than just to win the game.”

The girls narrowly took the win in the first set, defeating the Tigers by three points.

“I think we were a little bit nervous to start because we had lost to them before,” explained Ladd. “We knew that it was an important game. Junction City played hard, and it was a fight throughout for us to take that first set. But we focused on control and it was a really fun set to watch.”

With the momentum of the win having taken hold, Cottage Grove seemed to have an easier time winning set two.

“I think we started to feel a little bit more confident,” noted Ladd. “We shook off a lot of the nerves and realized, ‘Yes, we can do this, but we need to put our heads down and go to work.’”

Ladd prepared her team as best as possible for what the competition would bring in the second set.

“Before the set started, we talked about how that last set was hard to take the win, and this one’s going to be harder — because now they have to come back and fight harder,” said Ladd. “So, that means that we need to come back fighting harder.”

The Lady Lions served with excellence in the second set, scoring on several aces and consecutive serves. Blakely Herbert, Taylor McKay, Gracie Arnold and Izabell Senters all served several balls in a row, allowing Cottage Grove to advance the score quickly. Set two finished with the Lions winning handily, 25-17.

In the third set, Cottage Grove had a more difficult time keeping up, losing 18-25.

“I think we started out too confidently there,” admitted Ladd. “Since we had just beaten them 25 to 17, I think we went into the next set kind of forgetting the conversation that we had before set two.”

Ladd was forced to call two early timeouts in the set because the Lions were down so far in the beginning.

“It was looking like it might be 25-9, it was rough,” said Ladd. “We really fought and played well in the end of that set to get some points and close the.”

Fortunately, that momentum did finally carry on with the girls through set four.

In the fourth set, the Lionesses came out swinging, and didn’t let up until they took the win, 25-16. As Ladd explained, “we just played our game again. Set two and set four look very similar, and I would say that we played very similarly in those two sets, and set three was just a moment of mental weakness for us.”

Cottage Grove certainly had some standout performances throughout the night. Herbert, who was out for the first game with Junction City, brought the team seven aces, eight kills and two blocks.

“She has been doing a phenomenal job and continued to prove that last night,” said Ladd. “Eight kills is a lot to have from the right side, especially for our team. She’s really stepped in and been an effective hitter for us and really good passer for us, too.

In addition to Herbert, Avery Hutchins had a fantastic night with eight kills and one block. Hutchins hit 100 percent against the Tigers, and of her 13 successful hits, eight were kills.

Matty Ladd also had standout game at the net with 15 kills and a block, as well as two aces. Arnold and Senters contributed a great deal as well, with Arnold bringing in six aces, four kills, and six blocks, and Senters pulling two aces, 10 kills, and one block.

The Lionesses went on to play at Marist on Tuesday (March 30). They beat the Spartans in three sets, putting them into a tie (8-1) for first-place in the Sky-Em League with Junction City, which swept third-place Siuslaw in three sets Tuesday night.

Cottage Grove plays its final game of the season tonight (April 1) at Siuslaw High School.

First serve is at 6:45 p.m.

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