Grizz fizzle

HILLSBORO ­— The Ashland Grizzlies were proud of their intensity and focus after playoff win Nov.1 over Pendleton. But strengths became weaknesses during Friday's quarterfinal loss to eighth-ranked West Albany, which scratched and clawed its way to a 25-19, 25-12, 25-23 upset at Liberty High School.

"I don't think that we expected them to have that much intensity and that much drive to beat us," said Ashland junior outside hitter Hayley Ross, who had six kills and a block in the loss. "We didn't really underestimate them, but we didn't come out as determined as they did."

Ashland setter Kiley Pinder, one of five seniors on the team, agreed.

"They played an amazing defensive game, so give them credit for that," Pinder said. "We couldn't put the ball away and were not as scrappy as they were."

The second-ranked Grizzlies (21-12-1) entered the match brimming with confidence. They won the Southern Sky Conference championship without losing a single game and were coming off an impressive, pressure-packed playoff victory over the third-ranked Buckaroos.

West Albany (14-4), on the other hand, took an even tougher road to state. The Bulldogs finished third in the Mid-Willamette Conference and had to win two playoff matches to advance to the elite eight. Their postseason run began with a four-game win over Churchill and continued with a five-game win at Glencoe. That set up a rematch with Ashland, seemingly a bad break for the Bulldogs — Ashland toppled West Albany in the 2007 third-place match.

But if the Bulldogs were intimidated, they did a masterful job hiding it. They took a small lead midway through the opening game, used a five-point rally to seize a 20-15 cushion and clinched the game with a 5-1 burst.

Ashland may have entered the match as the favorite, but it was West Albany that had the swagger.

"My girls these last couple weeks have been playing relaxed and they've been really enjoying themselves," West Albany head coach Kelli Backer said. "I thought my girls came in a little bit nervous this morning and then shook it off and relaxed. They were having fun, they were smiling, and with this group, if they're smiling they're playing well."

Smiling often and playing exceptionally well for West Albany was Mona Goudarzian, a 5-foot-11 junior outside hitter who finished with match highs in both kills (15) and digs (21).

The Bulldogs also got a major confidence boost from their rowdy fan section, which dwarfed Ashland's and may have intimidated the Grizzlies on the service stripe. At one point in the second game, Ashland head coach Jodee Scott complained about "unsportsmanlike" cheering to a referee, but the only response she received was a shrug.

When asked later if it affected her team's play, Scott didn't hesitate:

"I think it does," she said. "You have a whole section of fans and they're waving, they're trying to distract (us) and they're doing things that you're not supposed to do. The rule is you're allowed to cheer during serves only if it's the same as your cheers during the match. But their cheer was different and they were waving their arms. You don't want to show the crowd that they're getting to you, but it was, and it definitely was unsportsmanlike. We missed seven serves in the second and third games (combined) and that tells you that someting was going on."

Now, Ashland has to recalibrate its expectations. The team that had a state championship on its weekend to-do list will now be gunning for, at best, a fourth-place trophy.

Despite the emotionally-draining setback, the Grizzlies believe they'll be ready for Crescent Valley.

"We'll probably be sad for an hour and then just start bonding and laughing and having fun," Pinder said, "and then we'll do what we gotta do (Saturday) and get it done."

"We've got fourth place now and that's what's in front of us," Scott added. "Volleyball is a game where any team can beat any team on any given day and West Albany got one from us. It's hard to know if we would have played a little differently if they still would have gotten one from us. Maybe if we played like we played against Pendleton they still would have beat us, but we don't know that now."

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