PHS volleyball: Emma Pankalla

PHS senior Emma Pankalla goes for a kill last week against Newport.

The Philomath High School volleyball team went up against some of the toughest opponents in the state Saturday at the State Preview Tournament at the Boys & Girls Club of Albany. The Warriors ended up falling in its first bracket match against Crook County, a Class 5A school that should contend for the state title.

In pool play, Philomath started the tournament against Sheldon and the two schools split — those are limited to two sets. Emma Pankalla had a team-high eight kills while Abigail Brown and Megan Harper each had three blocks.

Then it was on to play Jesuit and the Warriors struggled.

“We fought hard in the first set and scored 17 on them,” said PHS coach Denee Newton, adding that the Warriors had a good serve receive rating of 2.1 and Claire Skinkis and Pankalla had 16 and 14 digs, respectively. “But in the second set, we were sending lollipops and Jesuit was just hitting at us like crazy, serving 17 straight points.”

Newton believes the finish to the Jesuit match dazed the team a bit heading into the next pool play meeting against Lebanon.

“We had no issues in the first set but dropped the second,” Newton said. “I had to take Megan out because she was just coughing a lot ... still recovering from bronchitis. She’s really an impact (player) and it hurts when she’s not there.”

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Philomath finished third in its pool and was paired up with Crook County in bracket play. The Cowboys are a perennial power in volleyball and is where Newton earned her high school degree.

“Crook County clearly had a hunger to hit the ball,” Newton said. “I can say that we really only had one person who had that hunger. Some of our younger players were afraid to hit. ... Until we no longer allow that fear to take hold, we will lose matches to tougher teams.”

Crook County took the win, 25-16, 26-24 and went on to fall in the semifinals to 6A Sunset, 25-23, 25-23, 15-9, the eventual tournament champion. Philomath had an 18-12 lead at one point in the second set.

“We are still building confidence in our younger players and it hurts us when our confidence isn’t there,” Newton said. “This was an example of our refusal to take care of the ball across the net. So this week our objective will be all about mindfulness and mental toughness.”

Newton sees a lot of good things that come out of tough tournaments such as the State Preview.

“These tournaments are teaching us an awful lot about ourselves,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a better way to know what we need than to find out playing the toughest opponents we could find.”

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