ADAIR VILLAGE — Even the nerves that come with playing the match to get to the state tournament couldn’t slow the momentum of Santiam Christian volleyball’s dominant season.
The Eagles swept Warrenton for the second straight season in the OSAA round of 16 to stay undefeated. Santiam Christian, returning seven players from its 2018 state championship team, has lost just seven sets this fall.
Set scores were 25-9, 25-11, 25-11.
The Eagles (24-0) have played and defeated many of the other top 3A teams in the state — including Salem Academy and Creswell — as well as 6A schools Clackamas, Lakeridge and Sandy and 5A La Salle, all state playoff teams. La Salle is in the 5A quarterfinals.
All while knowing they have a target on their collective backs because of the zero on the end of their record.
“I feel like it’s a little nerve wracking for us, but I also think we use it as pressure, like we’ve got to keep going, we don’t want to lose at state,” said junior outside hitter Emily Bourne. “It’s motivation to keep our perfect season.”
Bourne had a team-high 13 kills Saturday and Kassie Staton 11. Shea Carley and Allaire Gilder each had five service aces and Lauryn Penner added 10 digs.
SC coach Kelli Fitzpatrick said the slower pace of the match made it harder for her players to stay fully engaged. Frustrating to watch, but they pushed through it, she said.
Fitzpatrick points to several factors that have allowed her team to be so successful this fall.
“One is having two of the top hitters in the state (in Bourne and Staton), for sure,” she said. “But having Josie (Risinger) as a setter be so consistent. She gets to every second ball. She really just takes that second ball and places it everywhere to make everybody else look better.”
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Continuing, Fitzpatrick said, “the girls really know how to take care of each other. They don’t focus on themselves so much. They know what their job is, to make the person next to them look better. When they get outside of themselves they just play really well together.”
The top-seeded Eagles open their state tournament run with a quarterfinal versus eighth-seeded Sutherlin at 1:15 p.m. Friday at Forest Grove High School. The semifinals are Friday night and the championship match Saturday night.
State quarterfinal entrants Salem Academy and Creswell are the only teams to take the Eagles to five sets this season. Santiam Christian went the distance with Creswell, a league opponent, in the Eagles’ Oct. 22 senior night match after sweeping the Bulldogs on the road three weeks earlier.
Santiam Christian has swept all but five of its matches, making it sometimes hard to see the weaknesses that need attention in practice.
Fitzpatrick said it helped to play nonleague teams in Salem Academy and Cascade Christian at SC’s home tournament last month “because they brought a lot that we haven’t seen this year.”
Taking on the higher-classification teams at a Gresham tournament in early October exposed a weakness in the Eagles’ block and helped them recognize that a more powerful serve from the start can bring greater success.
The Eagles will carry that knowledge and experience into the state tournament, trying to claim the program’s eighth title in the last 17 seasons.
Santiam Christian has now reached the state quarterfinals every year since 2003 and has made at least the semifinals 13 times in that stretch.
“We’re just going to go in with no expectations and come in with confidence with what we did last year and try and play our hardest,” Risinger said.