HILLSBORO — The Hermiston Bulldogs will play a new role this weekend at the Class 5A state volleyball tournament. After rocking through the Columbia River Conference largely unscathed, the Bulldogs (19-6, 11-1 CRC) headed west to Hillsboro to take on some of the best teams in the state as the underdog.
The first test comes today at 3:15 p.m. against West Albany (19-3, 14-0 MidWC).
“I dont have a problem flying under the radar, I think it’s kind of fun actually,” Hermiston coach Becky Wadekamper said. “We’ll surprise some people, I think.”
West Albany has pummeled teams this season but Wadekamper said she’s actually content with the first-round pairing. The teams match up well in the height department at the net. West Albany has some skyscrapers in the front row, led by junior Rachel Proteau, a 6-foot-2 middle blocker, but the Bulldogs have blocked extremely well recently. Hermiston averages two inches of height more than the Bulldogs from West Albany.
The blocking duties will be up to Hermiston’s 6-foot-1 middle blocker Crystal Schmidt and company. Practicing against an all-state caliber player like Schmidt has prepared the rest of the squad for matches against other dominating hitters, Wadekamper said, so Proteau won’t play as big of an advantage for West Albany.
Consistency has caused issues for the Bulldogs at times this season, but the team is locked in on what they need to do in the playoffs, senior Gracie Flyg said after the team’s playoff victory last week. Three players each had nine or more kills in the team’s last game against Wilson — a straight-set victory.
“From here on out we have to be playing our best because all the teams are going to be pretty good,” Flyg said.
Though the Bulldogs may be a mystery for most teams at the tournament because of a schedule that left them secluded on the eastern side of the state, Wadekamper said she’s familiar with almost all the other teams left in play. She and the team studied film on each of the schools, learning their game plans and looking for ways to exploit weaknesses — even the top-ranked team on Hermiston’s side of the bracket in Marshfield.
Marshfield beat Hood River Valley in its last game, but struggled to get past the Eagles in the last two sets of the match. If Hermiston can move past West Albany to likely meet Marshfield in the state semifinals, the Bulldogs will have a shot, Wadekamper said. Her team beat Hood River Valley three times this season.
“That’s encouraging to me,” she said.
The Bulldogs made their last appearance in the state tournament in 2001 when 16 teams traveled to the final site.
Play commences today at 1:15 p.m. with two games playing at once at Liberty High in Hillsboro. The two-day tournament concludes with a championship match on Saturday at 6 p.m.