The rematch between the Corvallis High and West Albany volleyball teams Tuesday lived up to the hype and matched the intensity of the first meeting as two of the top 5A squads met for the second time — of possibly three? — this season.
The visiting Bulldogs seemed destined to force a fifth set, as they did in a home loss to the Spartans back on Sept. 4.
But trailing 23-16 late in the fourth, Corvallis found a spark. The Spartans ended the set, and thus the match, on a 10-1 run to essentially lock up the Mid-Willamette Conference title with three regular-season matches left.
Set scores were 19-25, 25-20, 25-22, 26-24.
“We have that passion and we have that drive,” Spartans standout Ryann Gregg said of her team turning the match in its favor. “We all want it for each other, that’s a key thing.”
Both the Spartans (18-2, 13-0 Mid-Willamette) and the Bulldogs (17-4, 11-2) swept Dallas (13-7, 9-4), the conference’s third-place team, earlier in the day at CHS in a three-way league tournament, setting up the much-anticipated finale.
West won the first set, as it did at home, taking the lead for good on a 7-0 run that included five Lindsey Stewart kills for a 15-8 lead.
The Spartans turned a 19-all tie in the second into a 25-20 win with the push of a 5-0 run that included two Gregg kills, a Tanya Sisson service ace and a Taylor Silbernagel kill. Gregg finished the match with a spike.
The set was tied 12 times in all, and at one point on nine consecutive points. A kill by Stewart tied it for a final time.
The third set was back and forth throughout before two Sisson kills sandwiched a Taylor Quinn ace that closed it. That set was tied seven times, with five of those coming after the halfway point.
The Bulldogs broke open the fourth set with a 3-0 stretch on points by Alexis Chapman and Hannah Stadstad to lead 12-8.
West kept the momentum on its side, not allowing Corvallis to get closer than two before the Bulldogs busted it open with Stadstad and Taylor Tedrow kills and a Stewart ace to lead 23-17.
A controversial call to follow kept West from getting to set point. Four Bulldog hitting errors later and the Spartans were back within two.
Tedrow stemmed the tide with a kill after a timeout. But Corvallis wasn’t to be stopped, scoring the last five points to stun the visitors.
Both teams get only a limited number of competitive matches and seek out stiffer competition in weekend tournaments.
Spartans coach Steve Hyre said Tuesday was a reassurance that his team continues to play at a high level.
“Playing these matches like tonight where it was important, the kids show that they step up,” he said.
Gregg, a junior outside hitter who has committed to the University of Portland, had 26 kills and 12 digs and teammate Kylynn Quinn 33 assists and 13 digs. Nevaeh Bray added seven kills, Sisson four aces and Taylor Quinn 19 digs.
Stewart and Tedrow had 19 kills apiece to lead the Bulldogs.
Courtney Isom added 49 assists, Sydney Backer 34 digs and Stadstad six kills and three blocks.
“We had a few too many unforced errors on our part, missed serves, that take us out of it when we were making charges and giving us an opportunity,” said West coach Kelli Backer, who told her team afterward that matches of that caliber will prepare them for the postseason. “Hopefully we’ll get another chance at them somewhere down the road, and maybe we’ll be able to show what we’ve learned.”
Next time would be the OSAA 5A state tournament, Nov. 2-3 at Liberty High School in Hillsboro.
Both will have to win round of 16 games they will host the week before. Corvallis and West Albany are the clear first- and second-place teams, respectively, in the OSAA 5A rankings, and holding those spots would put them on opposite sides of the state bracket with the possibility of facing off again in the state championship match.
“I think this time we played them harder than we played then to five last time,” said Sydney Backer, a junior libero, the coach’s daughter and a former club teammate of Gregg. “We’ve really grown as a team since we played them, and so have they.”
If a third match was realized, it would be another meeting between Kelli Backer and Hyre, who was an assistant under Backer for six years at West through the 2013 season. Hyre then joined the Spartan program, and was the junior varsity coach for one year under friend Ryan Case before becoming head coach.
Both said they enjoy coaching against each other as friends, especially when each has a team playing at such a high level.
Hyre and the Spartans were fifth at state in 2016 and third last year.
Backer was previously the Bulldogs’ head coach before returning to the program as an assistant in 2003 after a three-year absence. She held that spot for three seasons before taking over the program again in 2006.
West reached the 5A state tournament in seven of the eight years in the classification — including state titles in 2012 and 2013 after a runner-up finish in 2011 — before moving to 6A in 2014. The Bulldogs were third at state that year and missed out on the tournament by one match in each of the next two seasons.