Each time South Albany needed a point to keep its season alive on Saturday, it found a way.
The RedHawks clawed their way back from numerous elimination points, but in a nail-biting fifth set, they finally ran out of luck.
No. 7-seeded South fell at home to No. 10 Thurston by a score of 20-25, 25-19, 25-13, 23-25, 18-16 in the first round of the state playoffs and saw its season come to an end. The RedHawks finished the year with a 16-8 season record and went 12-4 in league play to deliver the school's first winning record in recent memory.
The RedHawks went 5-16 a year ago, but bounced back with a strong start this fall and held their own in the loaded Mid-Willamette Conference.
“This is just a wonderful group of girls,” South Albany coach Kelle Angel said. “They love each other. They worked hard to get from where they were a year ago to where they are today. It sucks to fall short. But I’m so unbelievably proud of them.”
The RedHawks won the first set in convincing fashion but dropped the next two as Thurston gradually took control of the match. Trailing 15-13 in a decisive fourth set, South staged a gritty comeback and eventually won the set 25-23 on Brooklyn Willard’s decisive kill.
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To get to that point, they got three consecutive kills from senior Morgan Maynard that erased an 18-15 Thurston lead and brought the set back to even.
Once they reached the fifth set, the RedHawks quickly fell behind 3-1, but rallied once again to eventually make it 11-11 after a thunderous kill from Tayanani Manibusan. From that point, the teams traded leads six more times with neither side able to deliver the match point for an extended period of time.
With the set knotted at 16-all, Ashley Allred scored on a kill for the Colts, and on the ensuing play, a pair of Thurston players blocked a South Albany return to close out the match.
Four different RedHawks players finished with double-digit kills and Manibusan led the way with 17, along with 18 digs and four aces. Jadah Schmidtke had 16 kills, Abby Sadowsky had 12 and Maynard added 11. Willard had 31 assists.
“They fought,” Angel said. “That’s our whole thing — we’re gonna fight and we’re gonna do everything we possibly can. It just hurts to come that close… But this group just works together. We don’t have one person that we always go to. They’re truly a team and they work together.”