Forrest Welk
The La Grande Observer

Imbler’s seniors hoped to end their prep careers with a bang in Saturday’s 2A state championship match against Weston-McEwen. But after the Panthers found themselves on the wrong side of a sweep, Imbler outside hitter Hannah Wilhelm wasn’t sure what went wrong.

“Some things just aren’t meant to be,” the senior said. “We still had moments where we played really well, but Weston-McEwen played a hard-fought game. This isn’t the way we wanted to go out, but second in the state is still an amazing accomplishment.”

Weston-McEwen was crowned state champion for the first time since 2010, sweeping Imbler, 25-19, 25-16, 25-22, at Ridgeview High School in Redmond.

After losing the first two sets, Imbler fought to extend the match. Panther middle blocker Jacobi Rudd put down a kill to trim Weston-McEwen’s lead to 23-19, sparking a 4-1 run late in the final set.

Haley VanLeuven, who ended with five kills and an ace, closed the gap to 24-22 with a kill, but Weston-McEwen scored the championship-winning point on the next play.

“We were going to give it everything we had (in the final set),” Imbler head coach Jennifer Teeter said. “We told each other, ‘We’re not going down without a fight.’ We left it all on the court and hoped it was good enough to push it to a fourth set. We just couldn’t quite get there.”

After the TigerScots’ victory, Weston-McEwen outside hitter Sara von Borstel was named player of the match. She put down 12 kills and had three digs on the night. Her effort included a late kill in the final set that pushed the TigerScots’ lead to 20-18, and later the kill to give Weston-McEwen the title.

Wilhelm was named player of the match for Imbler. She recorded 16 kills, 11 digs, two aces and a block.

The final result marks the first win the TigerScots have scored over Imbler this season. The Panthers previously beat Weston-McEwen three straight times, including a 3-2 thriller on Sept. 15.

Similarly, Imbler came into the title match fresh off a 3-1 win over Grant Union in the semifinals Friday night. The Panthers had previously lost its last three matches against the Prospectors.

“That was a huge win,” Teeter said. “Coming into (Saturday), I felt like we had a lot of confidence and were ready to play, but we just had a lot of unforced errors that we struggled with.”

Weston-McEwen head coach Shawn White said his team learned from its losses to Imbler and improved each time the teams met.

“Imbler's such an incredibly good team,” White said. “When they started the year, they were playing at an incredible level. For us, we felt that we had a lot room to improve, just to catch up with Imbler’s wonderfully coached team. We were tickled that we got to play them, and it worked out for us.”

White attributed the improvement to a cleaner overall game from his players. Weston-McEwen only had 11 hitting errors and three serving errors, compared to 26 hitting errors and nine serving errors from Imbler.

Imbler outside hitter Allie Slater, who had eight digs and four kills, wished she and her teammates would have played more as a team.

“We could have definitely talked more,” Slater said. “Communication was our worst thing tonight. We went out there, and we didn’t act like we wanted it as bad as the other team. If we had wanted it (more), we would have definitely overcome.”

Imbler did have stretches when setter Katelyn Sitrewalt was able to set up her teammates for kills, including a 7-3 run to start the second set.

Stirewalt ended with 28 assists, the high mark of the match. She also led the Panthers with 14 digs.

On Imbler’s front line, Lexee Robertson had five kills, four digs and an ace, while Rudd had three kills, two digs and an ace.

Even though the efforts didn’t amount to a win, Teeter said that can’t distract the players from the season they had.

“Our players worked really hard to get to where they were,” Teeter said. “Progressively, our senior class has made improvements every year. I know our underclassmen will come back and continue to work hard and hopefully have another shot to come back here next year.”

Imbler reached the finals by sweeping Central Linn, 25-14, 25-29, 25-21, and defeating Grant Union, 25-23, 25-21, 14-25, 27-25, Friday.

Imbler ends its season with a 28-5 overall record.