It’s that time of the year where every opponent is a good one and most of the time is a fresh one.
That’ll be the case Friday morning when South Umpqua faces Horizon Christian of Tualatin in the quarterfinals of the OSAA Class 3A volleyball tournament at Forest Grove High School.
“I don’t know a ton,” S.U. coach Sarah Gray confessed regarding her knowledge of the Lancers’ next opponent. “I’ve talked to the St. Mary’s coach, who played them in the last round of the playoffs and I’ve seen their roster.
“They have two pretty tall middles and one is a lefty. I think we’re going to compete with them well.”
Horizon Christian (15-4) won the regular season title in the Lewis & Clark League, but lost to Catlin Gabel in the league tournament. The Hawks come into the match ranked No. 6 in the power rankings. Their middle blockers are 6-foot sophomore Katie Graham and 5-9 senior Jaycie Forrester.
South Umpqua (17-4) shared the Far West League title with Cascade Christian, the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, and enters the match No. 3 in the power rankings.
It’s the Lancers’ first state tournament appearance since 2000 — a time when rally scoring, liberos, 25-point sets and five-set matches had yet to come to college volleyball, let alone high school — when they were a Class 3A school in a four-class era. S.U. went 0-2 in that tournament, which was held at Lane Community College.
South Umpqua was close to making the tournament last year, but lost to Hidden Valley in straight sets in a Class 4A playoff.
What the Lancers have instead of tournament experience is experience against two-time Class 3A champion Cascade Christian. South Umpqua defeated Cascade Christian twice this season and has a 2-3 record against the Challengers.
As a team, the Lancers have learned about playing long rallies and that playoff teams aren’t going to be frightened by hard hitters. Cascade Christian helped drill that belief in, and Irrigon forced a number of long rallies before succumbing to the Lancers in last Saturday’s playoff match.
“We had quite a few rallies during the season within our league, especially like Cascade Christian the last time, when it went five sets,” Gray said. “I think we’re prepared for that. We’re a very offensive team. We hit pretty hard, so when the other team digs up a bunch it can be a surprise, but I think it makes the game more fun.”
Gray said the Lancers will go into the match looking to just play its style. Adjustments will be made if necessary.
“We do pretty good just playing our game,” Gray said. “Obviously if there’s someone or something that is causing us to start losing, we’re going to make adjustments.”
That was the case against Irrigon, which played the Lancers point for point early in the first set. Then S.U. adjusted to the high sets Irrigon favored and began blocking spike after spike.
Preparation for Horizon Christian has focused mostly on refining the little things South Umpqua does well.
“We’ve been working on some stuff, like strategizing,” junior Jenna Whitmore said. “We’re getting pumped. Playing our game is important.”
Making their first trip to the tournament has the Lancers eager for success.
“I’m really pumped for this tournament and I know the rest of my team is pumped to play and to win,” Whitmore said.
Should S.U. win, it would play in the semifinals at 6:30 p.m. Friday against either Creswell or No. 2 seed Santiam Christian.
Santiam Christian lost to Cascade Christian in the 2017 championship match.
“We have some tough teams. I’m sure Horizon Christian is pretty good and if we win that we’re up against Santiam Christian, which has been in there at 1, 2, or 3 all year,” Gray said. “If we make the finals, we (likely) will face Cascade Christian.
“It’s just going to get more competitive all the way up. That’s how the state tournament should be.”