Inspired by a pregame Senior Night ceremony, the Hood River Valley High School varsity volleyball team had its best performance of the season Tuesday in the team’s final home game.
A win would have helped the Eagles’ chances of advancing to the OSAA Class 5A Play-In round for a fourth straight year, and although they lost in the end, the five-set tiebreaker was a thrilling way for the Eagles to end their home schedule.
Leading 4-0 in the fifth set tiebreaker, the Eagles (3-5 CRC, 4-14 overall) were in good position to pull out an upset victory over the 17th-ranked Bucks (6-1, 6-7), but Pendleton overcame the deficit, managing to survive in a thrilling five-set win (25-22, 21-25, 25-18, 18-25, 16-14) over HRV.
“It was by far the best game we’ve played this year,” said a satisfied coach Scott Walker. “Even when we got down, like we did in the third set, we continued playing hard. We don’t always do that and sometimes we roll over a little bit. The girls just kept fighting and fighting and I’m so proud of them. They (Pendleton) are the best team in the conference and the girls played really well in pushing them so hard.”
Pendleton had the early edge in the first set while building a 19-10 lead. The Eagles came back to outscore the Bucks 8-3, led by strong serving by junior JoJo Karr, trimming the margin to 22-18. A service ace by senior Sydney McHale (three aces, career high 36 digs) made it 23-20. The Eagles got to within two before the Bucks scored two of the last three points for a 25-22 win.
“Sydney played amazing defense in getting digs and Lauren Winans did a good job of blocking,” said Walker. “We always want to have more aces than serve receiving errors. That’s our goal every game, so that was a good statistic for us tonight.”
A seesaw battle in the second setinded with a 25-21 HRV win. Pendleton led all the way in the third set.
“We all felt like we played well enough to win,” said Merten, one of seven Eagle seniors honored in pregame festivities, along with Kayla Byers, McHale, Alyssa Rangel, Mara Christina Troxel, Megan Tegman and Rachel Lahti.
“It was such a close game; in my mind, it feels like we did win,” Merten continued. “It was definitely the best game we’ve played all year. It felt good to win two sets against Pendleton. It was kind of a bittersweet feeling on Senior Night. I had so much fun playing in the most exciting game of the year.”
The pivotal fourth set consisted of four lead changes and seven ties before HRV nabbed the 25-18 win.
“I’m so proud of my teammates and everyone can hold their heads up high, because we just played amazing,” said Byers, the Eagle setter, who had a career-high 44 assists. “I felt a little depressed since it was my last home game, but I was just happy that we played so well together as a team. It felt good to see that everyone played their best in our last home game. We’ve come a long way since the beginning of the season and now our goal is to win our last game (Oct. 22 at The Dalles-Wahtonka).”
Although an excitng battle, Hermiston claimed the final set to take the win.
HRV played the Hermiston Bulldogs (6-2 CRC, 7-8) Thursday on the road and lost in three sets (22-25, 19-25, 19-25). Merten led HRV’s offensive attack with eight kills.
The Eagles will conclude the season with 6:30 p.m. match Tuesday at The Dalles-Wahtonka (0-7, 1-12). Qualifying for an Oct. 29 play-in round is unlikely, though, for HRV. The Eagles would have to move up 10 spots to number 24 to advance.