Five-set thriller opens league play

Freshman Blakely Herbert starred in the Lions league-opening win. CG built a lead nearly every time it was Herbert’s turn to serve. NICK SNYDER/COTTAGE GROVE SENTINEL

After two weeks of build-up, the Lions volleyball team got the Sky-Em season off to a riveting start.

On Thursday, Sept. 19 the Cottage Grove volleyball team defeated the Siuslaw Vikings 3-2 (21-25, 25-21, 19-25, 25-10, 15-10) in a gripping five-set match that featured top-end talent on both sides of the court. The back-and-forth contest was the first Sky-Em league competition for any of the Cottage Grove fall sports teams.

The Vikings jumped out to an early 4-0 lead in the first set until their run was interrupted by the serve of freshman outside/opposite hitter Blakely Herbert who rattled off eight consecutive points, including three aces, to take an 8-4 lead.

The early trading of leads would set the tone until midway through the fourth set when Cottage Grove seemed to finally settle in and correct a series of mental mistakes from earlier in the game.

“There were times when we were behind and we were doing it to ourselves … we were just making some errors that cost us some points,” said head coach Kendra Anderson.

Early on, the team misjudged a number of serves, allowing them to fall in for aces, mental lapses that then forced the team to recover and refocus in order to capture the victory.

“So in between the third and fourth set we just talked about it. They’re a group that enjoys the game, they love the game,” Anderson continued.

“We just made sure we were focused on that part and then play, because we were worried about the score, we were worried about how we were playing versus just enjoying the game and playing hard … then we just talked about grit. When you’re down, you just have to have grit. We’re young, but building that early is important.”

Despite the close final score, there were indeed dominant stretches throughout the game. However, nearly all of those dominant stretches came at the hands of the Lions.

Six-foot outside hitter Mia Collins was problematic for the Cottage Grove defense throughout the game, but after working out the kinks from the first three sets, the overall talent of the Lions roster became evident.

Herbert finished the game with nine aces and six kills, perhaps the most impressive performance to date for the team’s youngest starter.

“She’s doing a good job. She has to play some different positions in the back row on defense and she’s doing a good job of learning that. She’ll give a hundred percent, she’ll just keep going … she doesn’t stop to think about it. She just goes,” said Anderson.

Also starring for the lions in the league opener were sophomores Gracie Arnold (11 kills) and Taylor McKay (six digs), as well as junior captains Matty Ladd (16 kills and six digs) and Avery Hutchins (10 kills). Coach Anderson was particularly impressed with Hutchins.

“Avery had a great night tonight. She’s one that just has energy all the way through. If you watch her coming in and out of the game, she’s got a big huge smile and she’s always making sure she’s bringing energy to the bench, if she’s coming to the bench, or out to the floor.”

The Lions now sit at 5-5 overall on the season after splitting a pair of games in bracket play at last weekend’s Sisters Tournament, with a win against Vale (2-0) and a loss to eventual tournament champion Sisters (0-2). They next travel to Elmira on Thurs., Sept. 26 for the second league match of the season.

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