It would be an understatement to say Philomath High has played a tough volleyball schedule this season. The Warriors line up against not only the top Class 4A schools in the state, but against 5A and 6A opponents as participants in top-notch tournaments.

Philomath’s record after defeating Cascade, 25-13, 25-22, 25-16, Wednesday night stands at 11-9 overall — just two wins over .500. But four of those losses have come against the top two teams in the conference and state in Sweet Home and Sisters (one of those in a tournament), which have a combined winning percentage of .923.

The other five losses have come to 5A powers Crook County and Ridgeview, 6A schools Clackamas and Barlow, and 3A’s Creswell, ranked No. 2 and considered to be a state title contender.

As a senior, Joelle Berger has been around PHS volleyball for four years now and knows how teams respond in different situations.

“I don’t think losing to the big teams sets us back,” Berger said. “We played a bunch of 6A teams a few weekends ago and it just helped with our competitiveness and coaching ourselves knowing we have absolutely nothing to lose.”

Despite those losses, players know they can get better by facing the toughest opponents.

“I think it’s definitely the best for learning for us, especially when we’re up against the really big schools and we’re really close with them,” junior libero Claire Skinkis said. “We know that we can compete with these top-level teams and we can take that into our league and succeed.”

And that’s what head coach Denee Newton identifies as a need in these tough tournaments. The top three teams in the Oregon West — Sweet Home, Sisters and Philomath — are heads and shoulders above the rest. That’s not a subjective statement but a fact based on results over the past two seasons. As such, Newton needs challenging opponents in those tournaments.

“It’s like we have these strings of games that don’t prepare us for Sweet Home and Sisters very well,” Newton said. “Also, just the growth that a really hard Saturday gives you, you can’t match that anywhere else.

“We’re not playing volleyball the same way we were at the beginning of the season,” she added. “I think it’s helped a ton.”

Skinkis and Berger have served in leadership roles with the team this season. Skinkis had big shoes to fill at libero but has stepped in to compile exceptional statistics on the serve receive and at the service line.

“I think my main role is to just keep track of everybody in the back row and make sure everybody knows what they’re doing on serve receive ... it’s very important for communication,” Skinkis said. “I’m kinda the head of that communication to make sure everybody knows what’s going on and we don’t have any stupid mistakes in the back row.”

The serve receive is one of the most important segments of a volleyball team. Nothing can doom a team faster than not being able to handle the other team’s serves or stumble time after time with passing.

“During the beginning of the season, we did serve receive a lot — like every single day it was almost the entire practice and then we did 6-on-6, which was the only offense,” Skinkis said, giving an example of serve receive’s importance. “Now that we’ve gotten our serve receive together and are pretty consistent with it, we’re moving towards offenses more.”

Berger, Philomath’s 6-foot hitter and setter, got in on some big hits during the victory over Cascade but a nagging shoulder injury that dates back to last season continues to be an issue. Newton wanted to take her out of the match to rest but a competitive second and third sets kept Berger on the floor.

Asked if the shoulder’s been bothering her, Berger said, “A little bit, but it’s OK. I’m dealing with it after the season and it’ll be fine.”

Despite the important roles Berger plays within the attack, she sees leadership as her biggest contribution.

“Communication,” Berger responded simply when asked what she brings to the team. “It’s not a volleyball skill exactly, but it’s something every team needs.”

As for those tough tournaments, Philomath hopes to be competing in one more — the 4A state playoffs.

“I think those tournaments give us permanent changes, not just ‘we had a good game tonight,’ but look at what we’re working on today,” Newton said. “By the end of the day, ‘we’re going to be doing this from now on’ and I feel like that’s what we’ve gotten out them.”

In the win over Cascade, sophomore Sage Kramer and senior Emma Pankalla were the top hitters with seven and six kills, respectively. Skinkis had five aces and a 2.38 passing rating, which is well above average. Senior Megan Harper had five blocks and freshman Abigail Brown finished with four blocks.

Philomath will take a 6-3 Oregon West Conference record into Tuesday’s match at Sisters.

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Philomath 3, Cascade 0

Wednesday at Philomath

CASCADE (2-11, 1-7)        13  22  16

PHILOMATH (11-9, 6-3)     25  25  25

Kills—Sage Kramer 7. Aces—Claire Skinkis 5. Blocks—Megan Harper 5.

Junior Varsity

Philomath 2, Cascade 0

Wednesday at Philomath

CASCADE         11  11

PHILOMATH     25  25

Team notes: Philomath’s JV team improves to 10-4 on the season. ... Junior Alex Tipsword had seven aces in the Warriors’ dominating performance. ... Sophomore Mackenzie Hiner and sophomore Marlee Heiken each had three kills. ... Heiken also had a block. ... Philomath plays Saturday at a tournament in St. Paul.

Junior Varsity II

Philomath 2, Cascade 0

Wednesday at Philomath

CASCADE         17  19

PHILOMATH     25  25

Team notes: Philomath’s JVII team got back into the win column with the two-set sweep, improving its record to 4-5 on the season. ... Freshman Kori Galvan and freshman Emma Hood had six and four aces, respectively. ... “Our passing was so much better,” PHS JVII coach Juleia Dooley said. “The serve receive and our hitting were also better. We were hitting hard and serving well.” ... The JVII team plays Tuesday at Sisters.

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