The Powder Valley Badgers celebrate after the winning shot in Saturday’s 1A state volleyball championship match against Imbler. Powder Valley won in five sets. JOE KLINE - Bend Bulletin
Badgers rally to beat Panthers in five sets for first state crown
REDMOND — The third time was a charm for coach Lasa Baxter’s Powder Valley High Lady Badgers volleyball team, which lost the last two years in the Class 1A finals.
The Badgers finally accomplished their ultimate goal and capped a perfect season by winning the OSAA/U.S. Bank/Les Schwab Tires State Championship with a thrilling 3-2 come-from-behind victory over the Imbler Panthers Saturday at Redmond’s Ridgeview High School.
“I’m so elated and there’s no words to describe how happy I am to work so hard and finally come out on top,” said an emotional Baxter who was crying tears of joy following the win.
“I feel very blessed and grateful to work with such a phenomenal group of girls and for having such great support from our community too.”
Late in the tiebreaking set of Powder Valley’s 25-18, 15-25, 25-21, 20-25, 15-12 win, it almost appeared that coach Jennifer Teeter’s Lady Panthers were on the verge of winning with an 11-6 lead.
Following a Powder sideout, trimming the margin to 11-7, junior Jenna Aldrich went to the service line and served six straight service points. Junior McKinsey Hampton’s stuff block put the Lady Badgers up 13-11.
“At the beginning of the season, you always hope to get to this point,” said Teeter, who guided the No. 8-ranked Panthers to the tournament for the first time since leading Imbler to back-to-back titles from 2008-2009. “I think we were the unexpected choice by most people to make it to the finals.
We had a lead near the end and let it slip away and Powder Valley stepped up and played a little better.”
It was a one-point margin at 13-12 following a PV hitting error. Senior Ali Abrego (21 kills, 4 aces, 8 digs) then pounded back-to-back kills to help lead the Badgers to the huge victory.
“After getting here twice and coming up short and then finally making it back to win it all is the greatest feeling ever,” said Abrego, who was selected along with Jessica Pedro for an OSAA All State Tournament First Team Award. “I felt pretty happy to win the award, because I worked my butt off and I tried to be a good team leader.
PV grabbed the initial momentum in building an early 9-5 first set lead. The teams traded points throughout the game, as the Badgers continued to stay up front 18-14. PV extended the margin to 22-16, forcing an Imbler timeout. The two evenly matched squads continued trading points as it was 24-18 before Pedro’s game-winning ace gave PV the win.
“I’m so excited, I’ve been thinking about winning the championship all season and I was just our year,” said Pedro. “I knew that we could win it and it’s so hard to explain how happy I am right now. This was our goal at the beginning of the season and we wanted it so bad. It’s definitely the highlight of my career.”
Imbler came back as the momentum shifted in their favor in Game 2. Junior Ally Fullerton served six straight service points and strong hitting by junior outside hitter Malia Mills (20 kills) helped Imbler build a 9-3 advantage. The squads traded points with a Mills kill making it 20-14. Imbler capped a 5-1 run with a game-winning kill by junior Stephanie McGilvray, knotting the match 1-1.
In a seesaw third set that was tied 12 time’s, PV took a 20-18 lead on an Abrego kill and a Panther hitting miscue. An Imbler ball hit out of bounds, followed by kills by Abrego and Pedro lifted PV in front 23-19. PV took advantage of a Panther hitting error and a ball hit out of bounds to pull out the 25-21 win.
“We worked so hard all season to get here and I’m so proud of my team,” said Abrego. “I felt a little worried in the fifth set, but we’re a very good team that’s capable of overcoming adversity.”
Imbler regained the advantage in the fourth set in building an early 5-0 edge and the Old Oregon League rivals continued trading points in the 25-20 match tying Panther win, setting up the exciting tiebreaker.
“I couldn’t be more proud of how well the girls played and they kept fighting until the end,” said Teeter, in her 17th year as the Panthers coach. “Other than having a few crucial errors at the end, I felt like the championship was within our reach. Powder Valley has been here the last three years, so they’re an experienced team. They knew what they needed to do to take care of business and they got the job done.”
For the three-time OOL champion and No. 1 ranked Badgers, it was their first ever volleyball state title. PV was undefeated all year at the 1A level and their only losses were to Class 2A squads Weston-McEwen and Heppner.
“We believed from the beginning of the match that we would pull out the win, but I just wasn’t sure how it would turn out,” said Baxter. “Jenna Aldrich was awesome at the service line, she maintained her composure and accurately hit the spots that I was calling for her.”
Mills, who earned an All State Tournament First Team Award, was chosen along with Abrego as the ODS Players of the Game. Imbler sophomore Emma Boweers earned an All State Tournament Second Team Award.
“Being a senior, this really take’s the cake and it’s definitely the highlight of my athletic career,” said Abrego, who along with seniors Pedro and Alica Trindle, played in the last volleyball game of their career.
On Friday’s first day of the 16-team combined Class 2A/1A tourney, PV opened with 3-0 quarterfinal win over Yoncalla (19-4). The No. 1 ranked Badgers (24-2) continued to show how deserving they were of their recognition as the were unbeaten again in a 3-0 semifinal win over the St. Paul Buckaroos (22-11).
The strong front row play at the net by Abrego, Pedro and Hampton helped propell PV to a 27-25, 25-19, 25-17 victory. Pedro and Hampton both had game-winning kills in the match. The Badgers celebrated the win that propelled them to the finals a third straight year while loudly yelling and screaming with delight.
On the first day of the two-day event, Imbler won 3-0 over the Hosanna Christian Lions (24-6) in Friday’s quarterfinals. Imbler came from behind in the second and third sets to pull out wins. Fullerton had a sparkling performance at the service line in the third set while serving 13 straight service points. Imbler overcame an 8-3 deficit with a 13-0 run to take control with a 16-8 lead.
Imbler advanced to the finals matchup versus PV following a 21-25, 25-23, 25-12, 25-18 semifinal victory Friday night over the Portland Lutheran Blue Jays (21-7). The Panthers concluded the season 23-5, while losing to just two teams all year, PV and Dufur. For Imbler seniors Maddy Lease, Rikki Griffin and Danika McIntosh, it was the final game of their volleyball career.
“It felt good being back in the championship match and hopefully, we’ll have an opportunity to be back in it again next year,” said Teeter. “It was great for the kids to get here and finishing second is a great accomplishment.”
The win culminated a season in which the Badgers dedicated their success to the memory of Abrego’s mom Riki Anderson, who died of breast cancer a couple of months ago. Many PV fans at the tourney were wearing T-shirts with the words “Riki’s Rowdies” on them as a memorial tribute to Anderson.
“Riki was a prominent member of our community and a teacher at our school,” said Baxter. “I think she was in the gym tonight and it was just a spectacular way to finish with Ali getting the final two shots to win it.”