Banks falls to rival Astoria in the state semifinals and settles for a second straight third-place finish

EUGENE — In each of the last two seasons, Astoria edged Banks for the regular-season Cowapa League volleyball championship, but the Lady Braves earned a measure of revenge each time by beating their arch rivals at the state tournament.

Consider the tables turned.

This year, Banks went undefeated in league play and snatched the Cowapa crown away from Astoria for the first time since 2008, but the Lady Braves got a taste of their own medicine on Friday when Astoria raced to a 25-14, 25-20, 19-25, 25-23 upset victory in the semifinals of the Class 4A state volleyball tournament at Lane Community College, sending Banks to the consolation bracket and ending the Braves’ quest for an elusive state NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: ZACH PALMER - Banks freshman MaKenna Partain (3) celebrates with her teammates Saturday after scoring the final point in the Lady Braves three-set victory over Madras in the consolation finals of the OSAA Class 4A state volleyball tournament at Lane Community College. The win clinched Banks second straight third-place finish at the state volleyball tournament.

“The issue was that Astoria came into that match really pumped up and looking for revenge,” Banks head coach Suzanne Alley said. “They came in really fired up and we weren’t fired up. The girls said they were, but they didn’t put their money where their mouth was.”

Banks (22-7) responded with a workmanlike 26-24, 25-23, 25-19 victory over Madras on Saturday afternoon in the consolation finals, making it three years in a row that the Lady Braves have finished in the top three at the state tournament.

“All in all it was a good state tournament,” Alley said. “I was happy for them. We went from a team that a lot of people didn’t even expect to make the tournament to finishing third for the second year in a row. It was a great way to end the season.”

Banks began the tourney with a 25-21, 25-8, 25-17 victory against a wide-eyed and overmatched Phoenix team. Kaylin Vandomelen had nine kills in the match, while Samantha Duyck and MaKenna Partain had eight kills apiece. Megan Bunn finished with five kills, four blocks and six service aces.

“That first match was kind of what I was expecting,” Alley said. “Phoenix is a pretty young team with no state experience, so you could tell they were a little overwhelmed by everything.

“We mixed the ball around pretty good on offense and I thought we played well.”

Things got considerably more difficult from that point forward, as the Lady Braves advanced to a semifinal matchup on Friday night against an Astoria team that was out for blood.

“They were in high battle mode,” Alley said of the rival Fishermen. “They had to win a play-in game, then they had a tough first-round game (against Estacada), and they went five sets to beat Sisters (in the quarterfinals). They had been tested and had to play really well to get where they were.

“We had a first-round bye and we didn’t have nearly as tough early matchups (in the playoffs), so they came out fired up and we just didn’t match their intensity.”

Astoria (19-7) set the tone early with a dominating performance in the first set, a 25-14 victory that was never close.

After another shaky start, Banks battled back in the second set, getting back-to-back kills from Vandomelen and setter Aubrey Rue to pull even at 14-14. Banks took its first lead at 19-18, and a pair of aces from Duyck and Hannah Vandomelen pushed the Braves’ lead to 22-19.

With the game on the line, Banks twice went to Partain, a freshman outside hitter, and she pounded two kills to close out a 25-20 victory that briefly evened the match at one set apiece.

It was all Astoria after that.

In the third set, Banks got as close as 10-8 on a kill by Bunn, but Astoria began pulling away behind Danielle Moyer. The senior lefthander gave Banks trouble all match, and she bashed a pair of kills in quick succession to give Astoria a 20-11 lead. The Braves pulled within five points late, but a hitting error handed Astoria a 25-19 victory.

With a chance to even the match and force a decisive fifth set, Banks got off to a quick start, leading 4-0 on an ace from Hannah Vandomelen and a kill from Partain, but Astoria went on a 7-0 run that flipped the momentum.

Banks clawed back into contention, getting three straight kills from Kaylin Vandomelen to draw even and eventually take a 20-19 lead. The Braves crept tantalizingly close to victory with a kill from Partain and another from Bunn, giving Banks a 23-22 lead, but Astoria ended the Lady Braves’ state title hopes with three straight points and a 25-23 victory in the fourth set.

“Our team hitting percentage for that game was .137, and I think that says it all. You’re not going to win many games unless you’re hitting around .300,” Alley said. “We just made way too many hitting errors. It’s hard to win if you’re not hitting better than that.”

The silver lining for the Lady Braves was that they didn’t run into the buzzsaw that is seven-time defending state champion Crook County. The Cowgirls ended Banks’ season in the state finals in 2010 and the semifinals last year, and they made short work of Astoria in this year’s championship match, winning in three sets to claim their third straight 4A title after winning four in a row at the 5A level from 2006 to 2009.

“I liked the experience last year of having the seniors go out on a win (in the consolation finals). I really enjoyed that,” Alley said. “This year, I felt like if we couldn’t beat Crook County, then it would be nice if we could end the season on a win, and we did that.”

With their championship aspirations dashed, the Braves turned around and faced a hungry Madras squad on Saturday afternoon. Like Astoria before them, the White Buffaloes were looking for revenge against Banks, which dealt them a two-set loss in the finals of the Seaside Tournament in October.

And just like the Astoria match, Banks came out flat against a fired-up opponent. The Braves fell behind 7-0 in the opening moments of the first set, prompting Alley to call what proved to be a critical time out.

“We came out really flat against Madras. I told them that they were going to come out fired up,” Alley said. “Luckily they responded to the time outs I called. I just said, ‘You guys are the ones writing the script for the end of your season. You will determine how your season ends. You’re going to have to pull your own wagon.’”

Alley’s motivational tactics worked, and the Braves quickly pulled ahead 16-14 on an ace from Hannah Vandomelen, a kill from Bunn and another kill from Kaylin Vandomelen.

Madras (18-11) kept things close, and the White Buffaloes were serving for the game when Kaylin Vandomelen came up with a huge kill that tied the score at 24-24. Duyck and Rue combined on a block at the net that gave Banks a one-point edge, and Bunn smashed an ace to close out a gritty 26-24 victory in the first set.

Banks dug itself an early hole again in the second set, trailing by as many as six points before rallying to tie things at 20-20 on a block by Bunn. Madras scored the next three points to seemingly take control of the game, but Bunn sparked a Banks rally with two kills from her middle blocker position, and Partain served up an ace to cap a come-from-behind 25-23 victory.

“That was tough for Madras. They had those two games in hand and we came back to win both of them,” Alley said. “It looked like that took a lot out of them.”

Banks finally showed some spark in the third set, building an early 5-1 lead on aces from Bunn and Rue. Kaylin Vandomelen stretched the lead to 15-8 with a kill from the left side, and she smashed home another kill to make it 18-10 after Partain came up with a diving defensive save.

Duyck tipped one over the net for a 20-14 lead, and Partain closed out the match with a kill from the outside, wrapping up a 25-19 Banks victory.

Bunn had 12 kills in the win over Madras, and Partain had eight kills and three aces. Kaylin Vandomelen finished with 10 kills and was named to the all-tournament team.

Although the Lady Braves didn’t win a state title, Alley said she was very pleased with the season, especially after graduating six seniors from last year’s team.

“At the beginning of the year I didn’t even know what to expect from them,” Alley said. “We lost our first two matches and we were all wondering, ‘How’s this season going to go?’

“But they continued to work hard and improve all year. This was one of the most enjoyable seasons I’ve ever coached. Just a great group of girls.”

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