By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– When your returning the PacWest Player of the Year in Sydney Brown to go with first-teamer in Paige Boles and second-teamer in Lindsey Larson and a strong cast around them this season, it’s hard to see why not go find the toughest competition around right?
Well, what a way to start a season than against a Philomath team that is in the postseason as often as the Lady Crusaders are in the postseason.
And when the game began, what was expected to be a great match-up, turned out to have lived up to that billing.
“Oh it was super intense, we were playing our heart out,” said Kara Stanridge, who had 13 kills and three aces in the season opener Thursday night. “We knew they were going to come with their hardest game, so we had to give it back and played with heart.”
In her first volleyball game in nearly two years, Halle Baker admit there were some nerves in her first game since her freshman year, but the senior produced some great serves during the first set that help set up a 18-12 lead during the opening set of the game.
“That was my first game in like two years because I haven’t played volleyball, this is my first year in a long time,” said Baker who spent the past two Falls playing soccer on the nerves and being in a game like this right out of the gate. “So I was super nervous coming up but our team all banded together and we just wanted it so we were trying to stay fierce all game and give them our best the whole time.”
Standridge made a nice save during one of the several long plays of the first set as Salem Academy took the opening set 25-19 and the Crusaders built a 5-1 lead to start the second set, seemingly unbothered endurance-wise from the marathon of the first set with the hot start to the second set.
But, the Lady Warriors, as they have done against Cascade a few times themselves, surprised Salem Academy with a 11-2 run to take a 12-7 lead and as seemingly that the Lady Crusaders could’ve done and called the set a day, they battled back.
Baker led the charge to help get it to 15-13 as the tall front line of Brown (6’1), Stanridge (5’10) and Boles (5’9) tied it up with a nice play by Abby Mayta to keep the ball going that ended up building a 20-18 lead.
Mayta had roughly 48 assist in the contest as Philomath rallied to make it 23-22, but the Crusaders wouldn’t be denied and took the second set 25-23.
“Honestly just breathing, like we already have the chemistry to have that type on…I don’t know we just kept smiling and kept encouraging each other, it just helped us so, just believing,” said Stanridge.
And though the Warriors took set three 25-20, Salem answered the bell with a 11-1 start to the fourth set in the 25-19, 25-23, 20-25, 25-13 victory Thursday night.
Throughout this game, even that last set with both teams were dead tired, this game was like of a Rocky movie or something from a Sports movie in which neither side will give in nor give up. No one wanted to go down until that final bell.
And Brown pointed to the mental focus of her team that help pull them through.
“It was definitely physically tough but what really got us through was mentally,” said Brown. “In the fourth set, we were just ‘bring-it, bring-it’, we don’t care what type of hits your going to bring us, we’re going to get one on you and I think that’s what really got us through was together we’re facing a challenge where last year we would’ve been backing up.
But that’s really what got us through when we were getting tired.”
Brown, who scored the game-sealing point, had a team-high 19 kills, and Baker who had four aces on 35 serves, both know this game is just a start to what is to come for them this year as they go back to work Friday in preparation for this weekends tourney in Dayton.
“I hope it sets the bar pretty high,” starts Baker. “It’s good to get these out of season games, really top caliber teams and playing them. It’s fun.”
“We’re going to fix a couple of things,” adds Brown. “Every day we’re trying to get better. It’s going to be exciting, tournaments are so fun and it’s fun on pool day so I think we’re ready to bring it on, hitting it hard.”