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The La Grande Tigers celebrate after coming back from a 2-1 deficit to beat Pendelton in the home opener Tuesday in front of a packed house. (Paul Harder/The Observer)
La Grande volleyball rallies to defeat the Buckaroos in the home opener
Anyone expecting to leave the gym early Tuesday when the La Grande and Pendleton volleyball teams squared off got more than they bargained for.
It took all five sets for the Tigers to beat the foes from over the Blue Mountains for a second time this season (24-26, 25-16, 22-25, 25-18, 15-8).
“We knew they were going to give us a much tougher match this time,” La Grande head coach Melinda Becker-Bisenius said. “We didn’t help ourselves out either. Typically, we are a really good serving team, but we struggled with that last night.”
La Grande controlled the fifth set from start to finish with some timely plays from Anna Grigsby.
The junior had a kill that sent her to the service line, where she tallied an ace, pushing the lead to 8-5.
A block by Cassie Brownwell and Lilly Page appeared to throw Pendleton off its game with the score 12-7 in favor of La Grande.
Three straight attack errors finished off the match.
“It’s exciting,” Kirkland said. “We communicated well and bounced back. This was a big win for us, even though it’s early in the season.”
Those struggles at the service line cost the Tigers the opening set. Each time La Grande tried to regain momentum, a serve went right into the net, five times free points went to the Buckaroos because of bad serves.
“We work on it a lot in practice,” Becker-Bisenius said. “I think it might have been a case of first home-game jitters. I’m really proud of the way the girls battled back, though. We got some great play at the right times.”
After dropping the opening set 26-24, La Grande breezed through the second set 25-16 using a big run in the middle to pull away. The Tigers went on an 11-2 run, with the score tied 11-all, to put enough distance between themselves and Pendleton.
“We didn’t come in overconfident,” senior Kendall Kirkland said. “Pendleton is a good team with tough blockers. But, we have some great spot hitters that were able to get the job done.”
The Pendleton wall of 6-foot-2 blockers showed up again in the third set, stuffing the Tigers at the net.
Trailing 23-17 in the set, the Tigers found their rhythm. La Grande, however, still lost the set 25-22.
“We came up a little short, but I think that was the turning point for us,” Becker-Bisenius said. “It’s tough to win when things are a little off. That was just the kind of match it was though.”
The Tigers cruised through the fourth set 25-18, to force a deciding fifth set.
La Grande will travel to the North Marion Tournament Friday.
Becker-Bisenius said she’s been looking forward to finally getting into that kind of format.
“Usually by this time in the season we’ve already had a tournament and more games in,” Becker-Bisenius said. “This group of girls is playing really well without having a lot of time on the court.
“This also gives us a chance to see other 4A schools around that we might see in the playoffs.”
Hanna Cashell led the Tigers with 13 kills. The junior also had 17 digs and went a perfect 20-of-20 receiving serves.
Brandi Blackman finished with 17 digs.
Kirkland dished out 23 assists and had seven digs.
Grigsby collected 12 kills. She also played big at the net with five solo blocks.
Page, a senior, came of the bench to add four blocks, three digs and two kills.
“Everyone helped us win tonight,” Becker-Bisenius said. “Cassidy (Crites) played great on the right side for us. That was one of those adjustments that we had to make with what Pendleton was doing and she was able to play at a high level.”