Sept. 4, 2021 — This past week, Siuslaw’s volleyball team dove into their season and dug out some wins in the process. The matches began with a jamboree at Sweet Home High School last Thursday, Aug. 26, where each team played one set to 25 points against four other teams.
“I was really pleased with it as our first look,” said Coach Kari Blake. “I have a really good problem to have as a coach: I have a lot of girls that can play a lot of different positions.”
With 13 girls on the varsity squad, and another 13 playing JV, for a total of 26 girls in the program, this is the first time Siuslaw has had a full varsity team in about five years. Currently, the school is still in the process of hiring a JV coach, and in the meantime, Kari has her daughter, 2021 Siuslaw grad and volleyball veteran Kya Blake, helping her as a volunteer coach.
The Lady Viks began the jamboree by defeating Philomath first.
“We had our two freshmen that are on varsity this year starting, and I thought for their very first time out as freshmen and on varsity, they really held their own,” said Kari.
Freshmen Rhianna Lane and Mylee Blake, the coach’s daughter, stand right around 6 feet tall, which adds a great deal of height to the team. Even better, they have three more years to grow with the program at Siuslaw.
“They did a really good job of mixing with the older girls,” Kari said. “But I struggle to highlight any one particular athlete; they really all worked well together. I didn't have any major standouts, and I didn't have any girls that did poorly at all.”
After Philomath, Siuslaw handily beat North Marion.
“It was, again, a real team effort,” said Kari. “We do have two new setters — last year, we ran a five-one with just one setter the whole game, and this year, we pulled up a couple of setters from JV. One has been a setter in the past, one is brand new to it, so getting them in the mix, I thought they handled themselves and did really well.”
Sophomores Brynlee Manues and Kristin Wall both were able to put in some time in the setter position alongside team captain and veteran Vikings setter, senior Zoe Alberty. With the team moving to a six-two rotation, half of the girls were used to a different rotation, and the other half are new to the team entirely.
“Trying to get them all to gel was probably our biggest problem, but we knew that going in,” Kari said. “I've got multiple girls who can play multiple positions, so as a team, we decided we would give a different look at each set, see what really works for us and figure out what our core looks like from there.”
After winning their first two matches, Siuslaw saw their first loss of the day to Sweet Home.
“We started out really well and we were on a roll, then, somewhere along the line, we just kind of lost it a little bit,” said Kari. “We ended up losing to them, but it wasn't a blowout, and again, I can't really pick out any particular thing that went wrong. It was just the third look of the day, so the girls were doing their best, but Sweet Home is a really, really good team.”
She said Sweet Home challenged Siuslaw, which the team will use to get better.
Siuslaw’s final match of the day was against Corbett, who took the win by two points.
“We ended up going home 2-2 for the day,” Kari said.
According to the coach, the girls had positive attitudes throughout the day, even when things weren’t going their way.
“They did not get down on themselves, get uptight or start playing differently when they started to get down,” she said. “They continued to play their game; it just didn't go in our favor. I was really proud of them, especially with mixing all these new girls in and giving a different look on every single set. So, a good day, they all contributed and performed very well.”
The Lady Viks then played a doubleheader against Phoenix and then Sutherlin at Sutherlin High School on Tuesday, Aug. 31. Sutherlin played Phoenix first, defeating Phoenix 3-0, then Siuslaw took on Phoenix and defeated them as well, 3-0.
“The girls started a little bit slow, and you could tell there were still some nerves to be worked out, but then they just really picked up the pace and we were able to beat Phoenix in three sets,” said Kari.
Siuslaw’s back row proved to be particularly strong, with junior Desiree Tupua playing for the full rotation, senior Hayden Muller playing libero and sophomore Meika Shappell holding down the back row with incredibly accurate passing.
“Our back row was killing it,” said the coach. “They communicated really well, and they really did their job with getting good passes to our setters, and I also thought the setters did a really good job. Zoe did a great job getting some really good sets to our hitters and getting things spread out, and Brynlee really worked her tail off and did a really good job for us against Phoenix as well.”
The Vikings’ front row played just as hard against the Pirates.
“With our hitters it was pretty well spread out, but Desi was really strong in the middle front,” Kari said. “[Senior] Alizabeth Norton had some really strong play at the net with blocking. Mylee did a really good, solid job on the outside and Rhianna I've been putting right side and middle, and she's been handling each position that I put her in really well, so I’m very proud of their performance overall.”
The girls’ final game of the day was against Sutherlin, which they lost 2-3.
“The scores were surprising, and I was not anticipating it, but we lost the last three,” said Coach Kari. “It was really strange because nothing necessarily changed on the other side of the court; Sutherlin didn't change what they were doing. We definitely had a mental block, and it wasn't one girl, it was as an entire team, and we just could not dig ourselves out of it.”
The girls hit their tipping point in set three and could not recover their momentum for the rest of the game.
“Communication was a really big issue,” Kari said. “Once they got a little bit nervous, they got down and they just stopped communicating. That was a huge deal, and that's something that we definitely are going to be working on in practice.”
Although the game did not end how they hoped, the girls had a killer night overall.
“Huge kudos to Hailee Outlaw for the entire game, she served her tail off,” the coach said. “She had seven aces total in that game and did really well serving for us.”
Outlaw also had five kills on the day, 11 hits in play, a tip for a point and a couple of key blocks as well.
“Desi killed it against Sutherlin — the team really ended up relying on her for those last three sets, because Desi is the kid that you can put the ball in the air and she's going to do something with it. She was definitely a standout,” Kari said.
Tupua had a whopping 26 kills on the day, with 19 hits in play, four tips for points and several blocks as well. Tupua also was immensely helpful in the back row, with her passing being super on point.
“We call them perfect passes when they pass to the setting zone, where the setter should be standing,” explained Kari. “Desi had 30 perfect passes and only three passing errors, so she killed it all the way around and really led the team.”
Muller and Shappell also had great overall days in the back row, with 54 and 27 perfect passes respectively.
“So, in those five sets where we did amazing, when the passers did their job, we usually ended up with a point,” said Coach Kari. “I give huge kudos to the back row; they did a really good job of communicating and just doing their job back there. Mylee did a great job on the outside and had eight kills, 24 hits in play and three tips for points on the day, so she got a lot of swings in. And I was really proud of Alizabeth throughout the day. She was playing really smart at the net, she got her hands on the ball a lot of times and if it wasn't blocked, she got a touch or a tip.”
Alberty and Manues held it down setting as well, with Alberty really running the floor for the Lady Viks.
“She was doing a really good job of spreading out those sets among our outside, middle and our right side as well,” said the coach. “Overall, I was really pleased. We had five amazing sets, and three sets that gave us something to work on. We were able to take what we could to learn from, and other than that, I was very pleased with the girls.”
After these first matches, Kari and her team are very eager to compete this season.
“It's going to be awesome,” she said. “We have three seniors, two juniors, six sophomores and two freshmen, so we are fairly young. And the champagne problem I have is a lot of tall girls that can play multiple positions, which means at any given time, some of our better players are going to be sitting on the bench because I have all really good players.”
This is a good problem for the coach.
“They're challenging each other in practice and they're giving their all against each other, trying to improve in that setting,” Kari said. “Seeing it come together in the games is awesome.”
With the JV team winning both games on the same night, it was overall a great evening for Siuslaw volleyball.
“They looked really good,” said Kari. “I had no idea what to expect, because Kya has been working with that group mostly in practice. I was really proud of every single kid! I was proud of them because they won both of their games and I was proud of Kya as their coach, and they looked like they were really having fun.”
These season opening games were a good start.
“When you look at it overall, Siuslaw came in, winning three games and losing one as a whole — not a bad night!” the coach said.
The Lady Viks hit the court next on Wednesday, Sept. 8, at Pleasant Hill at 6 p.m.