GRESHAM — When the Blue Mountain Community College volleyball season started in August, coach Dave Baty talked to his girls about the arc they wanted to take over the year. The Timberwolves looked to peak at the end of the season, the climax of a gradual crescendo in play.
The time has come for the Timberwolves to peak, Baty said, now that the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges postseason tournament is under way. Blue Mountain (27-11) meets Bellevue (20-11) in a first-round pairing Thursday at 2 p.m. on the campus of Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham.
The Timberwolves and Bulldogs have met just once before this season, a three-set sweep (25-18, 25-21, 25-15) for Blue Mountain in a tournament two months ago. That result carries little weight in this matchup, middle blocker Becky Kershner said. Both teams have changed since then and the stakes are much higher in this go-around.
“We’re going in with the idea that in this tournament you’re all equals,” Kershner said. “It’s 0-0 as your record; this is pretty much starting over.”
Kershner added that most anything that can be learned by playing a team in a mid-season tournament often drifts away because of the quick turnaround between matches. There’s no time to linger and dissect other teams’ play when your next match starts in a matter of minutes.
Baty said he prefers his team to focus on honing their own game plan rather than watching too much opponent film anyway, but the Timberwolves don’t regard the Bulldogs as strangers. Outside hitter Laura Friar is an offensive juggernaut for Bellevue, a 5-foot-9 freshman with mass kill potential. Friar averages more than five kills per set and leads the NWAACC in that category. Blue Mountain will need Kershner and the rest of its front line to bring their blocking A-game to shut down the Bulldogs offensive.
The Timberwolves finished tied with Walla Walla for second in the East Region of the NWAACC with each team taking three matches from the other. Walla Walla won the tie breaker and Blue Mountain will have to play out of the third seed in the East on its drive for a repeat NWAACC championship. The situation is much different than what last year’s team faced as the top seed when the Timberwolves were heavily favored going into the tournament, Baty said.
“Last year there was a lot of pressure all year long and going down to that tournament it was like, ‘Geez, if we don’t come home with a championship it doesn’t validate anything from the whole season,’” he said. “I just don’t think anybody expects that much from us (this year).”
It’s hard to sneak in under the radar as a defending champion, but that’s the sort of role Blue Mountain has taken, he said. Spokane (32-5) won the East region after taking two of three matches from Blue Mountain and all eyes are on them to make a run out of the region.
That could play right into the hands of the Timberwolves, Baty said. If teams overlook his squad, he hopes it will give the girls added emphasis to prove people wrong.
“If we can get warm, I like our chances,” Baty said, “and if we can get hot, I love our chances.”
With a win Thursday, Blue Mountain would face the winner of the Highline (15-20) and Umpqua (18-23) matchup later that night. With a loss, they’d meet the loser of that game in the losers bracket, but would not be eliminated from championship play. The tournament is double-elimination format.