PLEASANT HILL – Sometimes a team needs a rude awakening – even top teams. That awakening happened last Thursday for the No. 2 Pleasant Hill Billies volleyball team as it fell to Mountain Valley Conference foe No. 1 Sisters 3-1. While the first three sets were close, Sisters dominated the fourth set 25-12 to secure the victory.
“We were playing one of the best teams in the state, and that was the experience, and we have some growth to do,” Pleasant Hill coach Jessica Crawford said. “But at the same time, I really do believe we have the ability to grow. And that the next match is going to be a really good battle.”
While Pleasant Hill is the No. 2 team in the state, it’s still figuring a lot out. The Billies’ starting lineup consists of four juniors and two freshmen, a young team compared to Sisters (12-0), which has all seniors and juniors on the roster — including six athletes 5-foot-11 or taller.
“We had some highs and lows. But to be honest, in the latter sets, we were not playing our game,” Crawford said. “We’re going to chalk it up to this being more of an educational opportunity. We have some younger kids who, this is probably the first team that we’ve played who always have multiple, significant threats … and they hadn’t seen that before.”
The Billies started well, rallying from a 16-11 deficit and winning the first set 25-18. It was all Sisters after that, though, as the Outlaws took Set Two 25-17 and won a hard-fought third set 26-24. The first and third sets were the best of the night for Pleasant Hill, which Crawford attests to its aggression.
“In those sets, we were not on our heels. We were owning, or challenging to own, the pace of that game. We were battling, and when you’re able to get yourself in flow, good things happen,” Crawford said. “But when you feel like you’re always behind, because the pace of the game is so fast, you don’t take advantage. So in those two sets, we were relaxed when we should be and we gave ourselves opportunities to execute. I just think they’re a better blocking team and have more firepower than what we have seen.”
Sisters flexed that firepower in the fourth set, jumping out to a 17-8 lead and winning 25-12 to secure the victory. The biggest difference in the fourth set, and the difference between the two teams, was Sisters’ ability to control the pace of play. How difficult is it to beat the No. 1 team while playing at its pace?
“Very challenging, it’s very challenging. You at least want to neutralize that pace, and make sure that you’re not playing from behind and only reacting and not being proactive,” Crawford said. “Not all of the match, but a lot of the match, it started to feel like that. And that is not typical of how we played so far this season, and it made everybody kind of just feel uncomfortable.”
Crawford stressed that the players know the match was a learning experience. As those young players learn what it takes to be great at the high school level, she said there will be moments where they’re uncomfortable.
“Hopefully being uncomfortable, and knowing we can do better, makes us a better team. Ultimately, we’re not gonna run the course without losing,” she said. “This is one of those things that, if we’re gonna lose, we better learn from it. And I think we have and will. The optimistic part is that when we’re talking, we’re talking about what we will do better next time.”
Pleasant Hill (7-2) will continue to be tested as the Billies head to a tournament at Class 4A No. 2 Marist Catholic this weekend, then resume league play with rematches against Creswell and Sisters.
“I don’t want to say that this match is gonna define us, because we’ve actually been playing pretty, pretty well. … So this match doesn’t define us. That said, we have to be a little bit more consistent,” Crawford said. “We need to take the opportunities and believe in ourselves and execute when we know we have the right game plan. … It’s going to be a battle, though. I mean, it really is. We have a lot of good, challenging matches ahead of us, which will be fun.”
Top performers: Claire Crawford, 35 assists, 16 digs; Cheyenne Green, 22 kills, 13 digs; Ruby Jackson, 11 kills, 2 aces