PENDLETON — A few numbers were bouncing around in Dave Baty’s head as his volleyball team set up for practice Tuesday afternoon, its last of the season at Blue Mountain Community College.
Five and 15.
As in five matches, fifteen games — all that separates the Timberwolves from their second NWAACC championship in the last three seasons. If Blue Mountain can pile five more victories on top of the 38 they’ve accumulated this season, already an NWAACC high by seven, the T-Wolves will leave Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham with another title this weekend.
“We play games to one (point) instead of games to 25. That kind of keeps us grounded with our mental state and physical state,” Robyn Schirmer, Blue Mountain’s all-star sophomore setter, said about the team’s in-match focus. “Taking it a point at a time, not worrying about the score but instead worrying about what’s happening on our side.”
Schirmer, of Seattle, has been at the center of the Blue Mountain machine this year, much like she was when the team won it all in 2010. After a year off, the setter has fulfilled her second year of eligibility this season with a near 500-assist season, good for more than 10 assists per set. Her ball movement earned her the NWAACC’s MVP award for the season and a spot in the sophomore all-star contest.
If the T-Wolves are the favorites for the tournament, as their season resume heavily suggests, then Chemeketa is in over its head in the first-round match Thursday at 4:30 p.m. The teams faced off twice in the regular season, both straight-set BMCC victories. Blue Mountain won a three-setter to open its season Aug. 31 and then another two-set tournament win a week later.
No set was closer than 25-20.
The stat sheets lean in favor of the Pendleton squad as well — and by a considerable amount. BMCC’s team-total hitting percentage of .254 is more than double that of Chemeketa. But no school is holding opponents to a lower offensive output than Blue Mountain (.066).
That hardly matters come tournament time, coach Baty said. The key to the tremendous run the program has enjoyed this season, one that’s included a school-first 14-0 undefeated record in league play, is intense focus.
“To look through the net and see an opponent standing in the way of us getting to our goal,” Baty said. “It doesn’t matter what’s on the shirt, we’re not going to play the name game. It doesn’t matter if we’ve played them once, twice, 10 times, we don’t care. We have a thing that we do on our side of the net and if we take care of business on our side of the net, we should be fine with whatever they’re doing.”
There’s been a distinct business-as-usual attitude during BMCC practices leading up to the Chemeketa match. Since the Timberwolves wrapped up the regular season a week ago with a dominant straight-set win over Walla Walla — the East’s No. 2 seed at 30-9 — practices in Pendleton have had no extra flair, no added spice of determination.
The girls aren’t feeling antsy for this one or really much different at all.
“No, we’ve been pretty laid back, but not completely,” said sophomore right-side hitter Kassi Howarth, an All-NWAACC first-team selection. “We’re doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing during practice — working hard and also having a little fun.”
Howarth has been the offensive leader of the BMCC barrage and one of the top benefactors of Schirmer’s superlative sets. The Springfield-native leads the team in kills (143) and hitting percentage (.330).
A group of seven freshmen and seven sophomores, this year’s Timberwolves are looking to leave their mark as the best sports team ever to come out of Blue Mountain. What they’ve been able to accomplish so far is nothing short of magical, Baty said, and the final step is almost at hand.
‘We’ve had so much joy coaching these kids,” he said. “It’s fun to realize that we’re peaking really well going into the big tournament but it’s also sad, the melancholy, because this is going to be it. And for this group of kids, they’re never going to be playing together again.”
Because at best these Timberwolves have five more matches together.
The NWAACC tournament runs through Sunday in Gresham. The double-elimination format tournament comes to a head for the championship match at 3 p.m. Sunday, with a second match to follow if needed.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at email@example.com or (541) 966-0839.