By Jeremy McDonald
ALBANY, Ore.– The Chemeketa Volleyball team had done something that only Yakima Valley had done once this season and that’s to take a set from the defending NWAC Champions in Linn-Benton. The Storm did so in a big rallying fashion, turning a 18-11 deficit into the 25-23 result that followed and was surrounded by cheers of joy as the squads flipped sides Saturday afternoon at Linn-Benton Community College.
“In the third set I think our team just realized we’re playing volleyball and this is one of our favorite sports, so we just went out there and we worked our butts off. We had fun and the energy that came from that made us win that set,” Chemeketa’s and Stayton-grad Maddy Mitzel. “I think knowing that we can compete with anyone is what we learned today and seeing that this team are the Champions from last year and we took a set away from them gives us hope of what’s to come this season.”
“We had nothing to lose and coach was like, ‘just go play volleyball’. In our groove we just let loose and we don’t stress. When we don’t stress, I feel like we do better and we take that onto the court and then we get focused and get serious,” adds Redmond’s Rilea Mills. “We just need to get focused.”
The Storm had actually made things interesting in the opening two sets against the Roadrunners. Keeping up with Linn-Benton through the first 18-22 points of each set before the Roadrunners pulled away in each set to go up two games to none and the third game that looked the same before Chemeketa’s rally.”
“We went in there and had good energy in the first set, and took care of business. Second set…I felt like our blocks got a little bit better, so we were cleaning up some of our stuff and the third set, they were really doing well and were scrappy,” Linn-Benton and Central-Grad Kennedy Kantola said. “And then in the fourth set, we went in and we had a good mentality towards it and took it away.”
Kantola is coming off a tough ankle injury that sidelined the now-sophomore going into the Roadrunners playoff run that resulted in Linn-Benton’s first-ever NWAC Championship. But has been slowly getting back into it, having played in all 12 matches that the squad has played in this Fall.
“Tight sets are definitely kind of hard, but bouncing back from the ankle injury was hard. I was in therapy every single day so all the hard work paid off. But it’s good so far, it hasn’t been bad,” Kantola said.
Linn-Benton left no doubt in the fourth set as they came out focused and ready to roll as they took down the scrappy Storm team.25-13, 25-16, 23-25, 25-15 to improve to 12-0 on the season and 2-0 in the NWAC South Region.
“We just really figured out the holes on their side since they were really scrappy, so it was really important for us to read their defense and find where they weren’t. I think that really helped us pull away, not only with that and our tough serves and keeping them out of system was really important to pull them away from that back-and-forth,” Linn-Benton freshman and McNary-grad Alexis Eldridge said.
Eldridge had 15 digs, two behind Shalyn Gray who led the squad with 17. Kantola led the Roadrunners with 10 kills while Mitzel (17 assists) and South Eugene’s Jenna Glenzel (18 assists) had all but one of the Chemeketa’s 36 assists in the game.
Idaho Falls’ Josie Nealson led the Storm and the game with 19 digs and Mills had a game-high 11 kills as Chemeketa heads to Everett Community College Friday to play Skagit Valley, Lane and North Idaho this weekend.
“We’re only going to get better and we’re only going to work harder,” Mitzel said. “Serving, that’ll be a big improvement. Something else we need to work on is communicating with each other and just getting those connections. Once we have those connections on the court, it’ll all click and we’ll all do good.”
The Roadrunners are heading to the Columbia Basin Crossover to play Bellevue, Treasure Valley and Pierce this weekend.
Photos By Jeremy McDonald