HERMISTON — The Pendleton volleyball squad spent much of its preseason practice time fine-tuning the service game. Coach Jodi Primus would pick a spot on the gym floor and her girls at the service line on the other side of the court would take tactful shots to hit it.
That attention to detail showed itself in the season-opening Hermiston Labor Day Invitational tournament on Saturday, taking the Bucks into the championship match against Southridge of Kennewick, Wash. A much improved team from 2011 still has a ways to go though, as the Suns proved too hot. Southridge took the title in three sets 21-25, 25-17, 15-12.
The host Bulldogs were bumped by the same Washington team in the semifinals.
Primus knew the kind of team Southridge (2-0) was entering in the tournament and got a chance to watch them play during the 10 hours of volleyball at Hermiston High on Saturday. Seeing her team match up against that for three sets was encouraging.
Pendleton (1-1) went 6-13 overall last season.
The Bucks rallied sets in their favor all day behind a strong service game. In the championship, Pendleton’s Amanda Fowler served eight straight points for her team in the first set, turning a 13-10 deficit into an 18-13 lead. The Bucks would finish the set off to take the 1-0 lead.
“I was not just focusing on (serving),” said Fowler, a senior outside hitter. “I just tried to serve.”
After Southridge tied the match at one set apiece moments later, Fowler returned to the service line for another outstanding streak. Pendleton moved ahead 7-1 to start the third and Fowler served up three aces in a four-point stretch.
She finished the game 20-of-21 from the line.
But the Suns pulled off some magic of their own, going on a run of 7-1 to tie the game. Southridge racked up eight kills in the final set to pull away and claim the top spot in the tourney.
“I think that we just lost focus a little bit and Southridge is obviously a very good team,” Fowler said. “It was exciting, though. We’re really confident right now.”
The Bucks beat La Grande in the semifinals 25-21, 25-20 to advance to the title bout, but in that match the offense of senior Xayna Robinson led the way. Robinson had 10 kills and four blocks.
But she wasn’t the only one. Senior setter Shea Lindsey proved she could play above the net with a pair of striking blocks herself. The 5-foot-3 senior put nearly that much distance between herself and the ground with her stuffs of the La Grande hitters.
“Last year I didn’t get that many and so it feels really cool to get them,” Lindsey said. “(Afterward Robinson) congratulated me a lot and then said sorry for not being there.”
Lindsey would add two more blocks in the championship.
For Hermiston, Saturday’s play lacked the consistency that coach Becky Wadekamper had hoped for. The Bulldogs are still working in a two-setter formation and when the setters were on, they provided excellent ball distribution. When there were communication issues, the Hermiston offense sputtered.
“When we’re clicking on all cylinders it looks real nice and I’m really pleased with that,” Wadekamper said. “We’re just struggling with consistency in our passing.”
Long tournament days can drag toward the end and Wadekamper said she saw that a little in her players. The Bulldogs were dispatched quickly by Southridge in the semifinals 25-16, 25-7 and performed much better earlier in the day in pool play. Hermiston finished second in its pool of teams — which included La Grande and Baker City
Pendleton was also second — to Southridge — but finished above Burns and Weston-McEwen.
A lot of the varsity players for Hermiston (0-1) were playing in their first long-day tournament. They’ll get used to it this year, Wadekamper said. The Dawgs have three more scheduled in the next five weeks.
“It’s just something that they have to battle through,” Wadekamper said. “You’re playing, reffing; you’re just hunkered down for the whole day. If you haven’t experienced that, it’s new.”
Weston-McEwen got to take a match off before playing in the consolation finals after finishing third in its pool. The TigerScots watched Baker and Burns throw punches to get into the game with them, but the extra rest was no advantage. The Bulldogs from Baker took down Weston-McEwen in three sets 25-11, 19-25, 12-15.
The TigerScots, representing the only Class 2A school at the tournament that had three 5A’s, a 4A and a 3A, gave coach Shawn White a lot to feel good about.
“It was a good learning day, I hope,” White said. “The potential that we’ve got if we can just continue to work to get better. We had some flashes.”
Taryn Coffman led Weston-McEwen with 56 assists across the entire day, which featured three two-set, pool-play matches and then the Baker game. Molly von Borstel led with 25 kills, McKayla Carlin with 46 digs, Marlene Bodmer with 6 blocks and Melina Baker with two aces on a perfect 13-for-13 serving day.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at email@example.com or 541-966-0839.