Junction City (10-5) hosted Cottage Grove (9-2) last week for a top 10 interconference showdown with the Lions being ranked sixth and the Tigers being ranked seventh.
Last season, the Lions split the season series with the Tigers, winning one game in four sets and losing the other in five sets. All signs pointed to this being a close contest, but Cottage Grove would have other plans. The Cottage Grove fans traveled really well and would watch their Lions put on a serving clinic in their 3-0 victory over Junction City strengthening their chances at a league title.
“In past years it’s been kind of us and Junction City back and forth and they have been the other top team in the league that we’ve competed against and focused on,” said Coach Abby Ladd. “So going in and taking it in three was huge.”
The first set was tightly contested, with neither team gaining a real advantage until an ace by Peyton Kidd. A huge hit on the outside from Izabell Senters pushed the Lions to a 13-10 lead.
After Cottage Grove scored two more points off of back to back Junction City mistakes, JC called a time out while Cottage Grove led by 5 points.
The Tigers would rally later in the set, gaining momentum on a hitting error by Lions Taylor McKay and serving an ace.
Gracie Arnold fired on all cylinders with a massive hit on the outside to close the door on Junction City’s short run, bringing Cottage Grove’s lead to 7 points after a massive hit on the outside would score the point for the Lions at 22-15.
The Tigers would not get closer as the Lions closed out the first set 25-17.
Senters was a critical piece of Cottage Grove’s early 14-0 lead coming out of the break after the first set. Senters strung together 9 aces that paired nicely with big swings on the outside by her teammates.
Cottage Grove seemed to have Junction City on the ropes, but the Tigers would make a run of their own and claw back into the set. Junction City’s Adessa Wood would serve four aces of her own cutting the Lions lead in half to 16-8.
The Tigers continued to battle as they caught up to the Lions after scoring four more points in a row and tying the set at 20 points each.
But Senters proved to be too much for the Junction City defense as she added three more aces accounting for four of the last five total points for Cottage Grove, closing out a hard fought second set with a 5-0 run ending in a Cottage Grove 2ns set victory.
The third set followed similarly to the second set with Cottage Grove jumping out to a quick lead followed by Junction City inching their way back into it.
The score was tied at 9-9, but after some huge serves by Peyton Kidd and Gracie Arnold, the Lions were able to push their lead back up to 17-13, forcing Junction City to use their last timeout of the set. Savannah Willits got involved in the serving hot streak as she added two aces of her own, making the lead 20-14 Lions.
All signs pointed again to Cottage Grove running away with the set but Junction City continued to be tough as Ayden King would help cut the Lions lead to only two with some timely hits of her own.
Cottage Grove would capitalize on 3 detrimental mistakes, closing on the set at 25-21 and earning the match victory.
“After the game we talked about how it takes a lot of focus and energy to keep yourself positive when you’re making mistakes. And I wouldn’t say that we made it through that game without making any mistakes. I mean we had our fair share,” said Coach Ladd. “But I think the difference was our response to our mistakes led us to be able to stay on top of the game and keep the momentum whereas the other team wasn’t able to do that in the same way that we did.”
Later in the week Cottage Grove cruised past Marist in another 3-0 victory, helping the Lions crack the top five rankings and sitting atop the Sky-Em league standings. The Lions will continue their road trip as they travel next to Marshfield Oct. 7, Seaside Oct. 9, and Elmira Oct. 12.
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