La Grande’s defense might be the team’s strength on the court this fall, but the Tigers are still putting in time during practice to make it even stronger.
The defensive prowess was on display Tuesday night, and to head coach Melinda Becker-Bisenius was a key point in the Tigers’ 25-23, 25-22, 25-15 home sweep over Hermiston.
“I thought defensively we played fantastic tonight,” the coach said. “We had a lot of great defensive plays. We had been working on some defense in practice a lot and not relying on the block so much. (We’re) working on my back row players (on) playing more tough and covering that tip. I thought we did a really nice job of that tonight. Overall, we had a really great team effort.”
The Tigers did indeed make it tough for Hermiston to get a kill down. Two players finished in double figures in digs — Liz Cashell with 21 and Jayce Seavert with 11. Two more players, Kelsey Brown and Alyssa McDowell, had eight apiece and Haley Hatley chipped in seven.
“Haley and Liz had some fantastic plays on defense (where) we thought the ball was dead and then they dug it up,” Becker-Bisenius said.
The strong back line play was no more evident than on a key point late in the second set that saw both teams exchange kill attempts that the other somehow got to. Each team had multiple shots before Kenzie Williams finally had a perfectly placed kill that gave La Grande a 20-14 lead.
And while defense might be the Tigers’ strong point, the offense is gaining ground. McDowell led a balanced attack with nine kills. Brown, who had a strong all-around night with four kills, four aces and three blocks to go with her dig total, said the Tigers had an edge on the Bulldogs on both sides of the net.
“We were able to put (a kill) down, but then pick it back up when they thought they could get it back over,” she said.
La Grande also had an answer for each Hermiston run. The Bulldogs never led in the first set, but battled back from an early six-point deficit to tie the score twice, the last time at 22-all on a Breena Wadekamper ace. But Claire Hardy had two of her seven kills on back-to-back points for the lead, and Williams followed with another kill two points later for the first-set win.
Becker-Bisenius said the ability to come through in tight situations is from taking a point-by-point mentality.
“Even if we’re down or close, we don’t want to stress out (but) take it one point at a time and work on trying to finish,” she said.
La Grande rallied from an early four-point deficit in the second set. Two kills by McDowell helped push the Tigers to a 10-7 lead. A block by Brown and an ace by Jacie Howton gave the Tigers their biggest lead of the set at 17-9. Hermiston pulled within
24-22, but couldn’t complete the comeback.
Then, La Grande pounced with the two-set lead. McDowell had two kills and Jaiden Hafer chipped in a kill during a 10-1 run, which ended with a Hardy kill for a 15-4 lead in the third. Another kill by Hardy gave the Tigers a 20-10 cushion. McDowell polished off the match moments later with a kill.
“I think we finally realized we can do it, put our heads to it and worked together,” McDowell said of the final set.
Brown said one of the keys for the Tigers was their “connection” on the court.
“We worked well together,” she said. “We communicated. We tried our hardest to not get down when things did not go our way.”
La Grande (3-1 overall) visits Pendleton Thursday.