SPRINGFIELD – “We’re No. 2!” isn’t exactly what any team shoots for at the start of the season, or celebrates afterward. But for the Pleasant Hill volleyball team, reaching the championship match at the state tournament for the first time in nearly 30 years provided joy amidst a few tears.
The second-ranked Bilies, who had swept No. 7 Creswell and No. 6 Santiam Christian en route to the title match against Sisters, ended their season with a third loss to the Outlaws, this time falling in four sets.
“Second place in the state isn’t too shabby, right?” Pleasant Hill head coach Jessica Crawford said, her players milling around the bench after the championship match, processing a mix of accomplishment and loss. “We wanted more, and we fell short. I think they are proud of the fact that they made it this far and earned their right to be here. They worked hard all season to get the two seed, and we stayed. We battled through the tournament, and we made it to the final match. So I’m happy.”
Sisters came out on the attack in the final match Saturday, taking the lead early and hanging on for much of the first set. Down 20-17, Pleasant Hill won 8 of the next 11 points to win 25-23.
The Outlaws flexed their hitting power after that, though, controlling the rest of the match and winning the next three sets 25-18, 25-16, and 25-18 to claim the program’s seventh state title.
“They had the most offensive weapons that we’ve played, spread out. So it’s not like you have a reprieve. So that is difficult for our team, and it impacts us,” Crawford said. “And it’s been something that we’ve been talking about; adding a balanced offense. Big kudos to Sisters though. They’re well-coached, they have a lot of talent, and I’m happy for them.”
Junior Cheyenne Green led the Billes with a match-high 25 kills, juniors Ruby Jackson added 10 kills, and junior Claire Crawford 34 assists 8 kills, and 17 digs. Green and Crawford each earned first-team all-tournament honors for the weekend.
For Crawford, she watched her two daughters – junior Claire and freshman Anna – start side-by-side with the state title on the line.
“Oh, golly, it’s pretty cool. You know, as a parent, I have to say the nice part now is, after I go do my team chat, I can be a mom, and gush on them,” Crawford said. “We tried to establish boundaries, both for them, and for the benefit of the team as a whole. We really, really try to make sure there’s balance. But I got to watch my kids play some solid, good ball together, at a high level. And I’m just so proud of them.”
Crawford also noted the Pleasant Hill community in general – Springfield High School’s stands were packed on both days with Billies fans and students.
“It was awesome. I have to say, they exceeded my expectations. I knew we had a great crowd, I knew we had an awesome community, and they just raised the bar,” Crawford said. “The players are appreciative and it just really makes it fun, and it brings people together. It’s awesome.”
The Billies finished their season at 24-4 – the most wins in program history – with three losses coming to Sisters and one to Class 5A 5th-place finisher Crater. While records aren’t exact, Crawford said it appears this was the team’s first playoff appearance since 1995, and highest finish since winning the state title in 1974.
Pleasant Hill graduates only two seniors from this year’s team, and all six starters are scheduled to return. Couple that with state champion Sisters graduating six seniors – four of whom made all-league – and the Billies may very well be the favorite heading into next season.
“That’s the fun part of that, is you actually see that in the kids. They have more work that they want to do, and that is encouraging as a coach, especially when you have the core group coming back next year,” Crawford said. “We want to do it, we want to be there, we want to work hard, and the kids do too. …. If they want to put in the work, we’re going to do it, and hopefully we come back.”
The Oregon School Activities Assocation puts together all-tournament teams for the volleyball state tournament. Below are our area athletes who made all-tournament teams last weekend.
Class 5A: Thurston
2nd team: Julia Cook, Scout Martin
1st team: Cheyenne Green and Claire Crawford, Pleasant Hill
2nd team: Piper Hanson, Creswell