Lions volleyball clinches Sky-Em title

Earlier in the season, Lions volleyball had to come back down 2-0 on the road against Siuslaw, but would claw their way back to earn their first five-set victory of the season. Last Thursday’s game was just as close, but the stakes were even higher.

Cottage Grove hosted Siuslaw on senior night and with a chance to clinch their first league title since 2018. After another five-set classic, the Lions would emerge victoriously and earn the Sky-Em league title.

“I am so proud of them and their ability to stay mentally tough and positive and focus on a team mentality for that game,” said Head Coach Abby Ladd. “So it was rewarding to win the game, but also rewarding to see that the things that we had focused on and worked on, come through for us.”

The Lions didn’t play their best volleyball to start and the Vikings were able to take advantage as they held control of the first set.

Gracie Arnold and Izabell Senters had back-to-back hits helping cut the Siuslaw lead to four at 20-16. But Siuslaw wouldn’t get rattled as they responded with back-to-back points of their own making the Vikings lead 22-16. 

Peyton Kidd and Senters both had aces near the end of the set keeping the score tight at 24-21. Senters’ last serve of the set went out of bounds to give Siuslaw the first set win 25-21. 

Siuslaw’s Rhianna Lane had a big block on Arnold giving the Vikings an early 8-4 lead in the second set. But the Lions would respond in a massive way; scoring eight in a row and snatching the lead back at 12-8. Senters would later contribute an ace and a big hit pushing the Lions lead to 17-11. 

The offensive onslaught would continue for the Lions as Senters, Arnold, and Dazjah Tinsley would all contribute to an insurmountable lead for Siuslaw. 

Kidd set up Arnold very nicely near the end of the set and Siuslaw would have no answer for that combo as Cottage Grove ran away with the second set 25-15.  

Cottage Grove seemingly had their momentum carry over to the third set after they grabbed an 11-10 lead and never gave the lead back. Taylor McKay had a quality serve to make the Cottage Grove lead 15-11. Arnold would put up three points in a row followed by a timely point by Kidd would increase the Lions lead even more at 23-17. 

A Siuslaw hit out of bounds and a Cottage Grove block at the net would close the third set for the Lions at 25-18, who were on the verge of their league title with a two to one set lead. 

Siuslaw weathered the storm and rallied in the fourth set behind some big hits from Mylee Blake, Ashley Hennessee, and Hailee Outlaw taking a commanding 15-6 lead. 

Coach Ladd called a timeout trying to stop the momentum after Desiree Tupua increased the Vikings’ lead to 19-8.

The Lions could not get anything going offensively as Siuslaw would prove to be too much in the fourth set as an ace from Brynlee Manues closed out the set win for the Vikings 25-12. 

“I said, we have an opportunity here that we can take a hold of, and we can make history and we can do the things that we set out to do,” said Ladd. “Or we can focus on other things, we can get frustrated with our mistakes. We can be intimidated by the other team, and we can walk away like, ‘What if?’” Ladd added. “They walked back out there and they decided to fight and to take the opportunity that was in front of them and they really owned it in a lot of ways.”

With positive momentum still on their side, Siuslaw got an early 6-3 lead after a hit by Blake and an ace from Manues. The Lions refused to let the game get away from them as Arnold served two aces in a row tying the set back up at six. 

After a mistake by Siuslaw, the Lions had a 9-6 lead looking to close out the set, but the Vikings again would rally and score three points of their own to tie the set again at nine. Both teams would not give an inch as the scoring went back and forth until 12-12. However, Siuslaw had a serve go out of bounds and Arnold made a huge hit, giving the Lions a 14-12 lead. 

The Vikings were able to score, putting even more pressure on the Lions with a one-point lead. In the next rally, Arnold would get blocked at the net but the Lions recovered; Kidd was able to set up Arnold one more time, who hit the ball off the Siuslaw block for the game-winning point and bringing in a 15-13 set win for the Lions.

“This group of seniors were my first JV team that I coached on my own,” said Ladd. “I’ve been with this group of seniors and all of the other girls on the team since their first day. And so I am just overflowing with joy and pride in how they have grown over the past four years as volleyball players and people.”

Next for Cottage Grove, they will host a playoff game with a game on Saturday, Oct. 30 with their time and opponent still to be determined before press time.