Corvallis and West Albany are looking at a potential third match between the first- and second-ranked 5A volleyball teams this season in Saturday’s state championship at Liberty High in Hillsboro.
But both understand they have to play well to get there, as the other six teams in the bracket have that same goal of playing the final match in the tournament.
The Spartans and Bulldogs, on opposite sides of the bracket, open with Friday morning’s quarterfinals. Top-seeded Corvallis (22-2) plays eighth-seeded Hood River Valley (20-4) at 8, while No. 2 West Albany (21-4) takes on No. 7 Crook County (20-10) at 10.
“We don’t know for sure if it’s going to come down to us and Corvallis,” said West senior setter Courtney Isom said. “We have to stay confident in each other but we can’t be too cocky about it. We don’t know who the competition is going to be, and we have to come in playing as hard as we can.”
West split two pool play sets with Crook County at the South Albany State Preview tournament in September. Corvallis has not played Hood River Valley. West beat HRV in three sets in a best-of-three match at a tournament at Bend last month.
Corvallis had a pretty good idea it would make it back to state after returning the core of the 2017 squad that took third, including Ryann Gregg, a junior first team all-state outside hitter.
West Albany dropped to 5A this fall from 6A, where it had success the past four years. The Bulldogs were third at state in 2014, their first year in the new classification after a dominant run in 5A, and were two points short of making the 6A state tournament last year.
Corvallis carries the experience of being there, having made a trip to Liberty in 2016 as well.
“I think it’s a huge factor,” Spartans senior libero Taylor Quinn said of having been there before.
Spartans coach Steve Hyre has seen the effects the pressure of a first-time tournament appearance can have on young players.
Hyre, whose 28 years as a coach included six years as an assistant to Kelli Backer at West during a dominant run for the Bulldogs, knows margins are slim and even the best teams can fall.
“We’re going to go up and play our game” and make adjustments as necessary, Hyre said, adding that this year’s team is “as talented a group as I’ve been a part of.”
“You’ve got to come up there and be ready to play.”
Bulldogs senior libero Sydney Backer said her team is “jittery” but also excited because it is unsure of what to expect. The team has played in big matches, just not ones with a state title up for grabs at the end.
“Some of us are really nervous because we’ve never been past the playoffs ever,” she said.
Corvallis and West Albany both swept their round of 16 matches last Saturday. Each will play in a championship semifinal at 6:30 p.m. Friday with a win earlier in the day, or in a consolation semifinal at 8 a.m. Saturday with a loss.
Corvallis will take on Mid-Willamette rival Dallas or Wilsonville in its second match, while West will play Crater or Ridgeview.
The Bulldogs have losses to Central Catholic and Sunset, both 6A tournament teams, and are undefeated in 5A outside two losses to Corvallis.
The Spartans have rolled through most of their schedule this fall.
Their losses came against Sunset and McMinnville, another 6A school. The three sets they’ve lost against 5A competition all came versus West Albany.
Corvallis defeated West in five sets in Albany on Sept. 4 and in four on Oct. 9 in Corvallis. The Bulldogs were close to forcing a fifth set in the second meeting before CHS ended the fourth set on a 10-1 run to win it 26-24.
Coach Backer said those matches have her team confident heading into the tournament.
“They’ve set their goal very high,” she said. “They want to go up there and challenge themselves.”