Warrior Nation: Sweet Home, Sisters and Philomath — top 3 in OWC volleyball

After a break to get in a few year-in-review blogs, I return this week with a look at the Oregon West Conference fall sports teams. Previous articles reviewed boys soccer, girls soccer and football.

Today, let’s take a look at volleyball. And just a disclaimer here — I haven’t interviewed coaches, I have no inside knowledge on what athletes may be returning. This is just an on-the-paper look at how the teams in the league shape up based on players that probably will be back along with the programs’ recent histories factoring in.

Oregon West Conference volleyball is insane. For the past two seasons, Sweet Home and Sisters have been the top two teams — the Huskies going 23-1 and the Outlaws 21-3 over the 2018 and 2019 campaigns. All of their league losses were to each other.

Sweet Home, which won the league in 2018 and finished runner-up in 2019, reached the Class 4A finals at the last state tournament (a very strong Valley Catholic squad swept the Huskies). Based on the level of talent this program appears to be returning, it would be hard to not predict Sweet Home for a conference title.

Four players on the team have committed to playing traditional volleyball at the collegiate level and one of those players, Bailee Hartsook, was the Oregon West Player of the Year in 2019. She’s headed to Western Oregon.

Graci Zanona, Savannah Hutchins and Shelbey Nichol — all commits to Linn-Benton Community College — are seniors this academic year. Hartsook, Zanona and Hutchins were first-team OWC selections in 2019. A fifth player, Teja Abbott, will reportedly play beach volleyball in college.

Sisters has a couple of first-team conference selections from 2019 — Ellie Rush and Greta Davis — that would presumably be back for the Outlaws if we have a season in the coming weeks. Sophia Silva and Sydney Myhre are a couple of other good ones that were underclassmen in 2019.

Philomath is a team to keep an eye on with its strong finish to the 2019 season. The Warriors had a major breakthrough against the top two last season by beating Sisters in four sets in the Class 4A quarterfinals.

PHS took a hit to graduation with Joelle Berger, Emma Pankalla and Ashley Matthews taking the diploma walk but there is talent moving up. Sage Kramer is an exceptional all-around athlete, Abigail Brown will almost certainly evolve into an impact player and Claire Skinkis has valuable experience as libero. Kramer and Brown are playing with the Sweet Home club volleyball squad.

Stayton went .500 in the conference in the last season played and lost a good number of seniors off of that squad. The Eagles’ top returning player would probably be Carly Rose Lederer, an outside hitter.

Cascade and Newport won a combined six matches in the league in 2019 — both sweeping Woodburn and splitting with one another. The Cougars had a young squad and may have the most potential to make a move up the standings. Brooke Worst, a middle blocker, was second-team all-conference in 2019 — one of a huge group of then-sophomores.

The Cubs lost some seniors from the 2019 team but the majority of Newport’s top players appeared to be underclassmen — Macy Johnston, M’Kenzie Kirchner, Stella Barber and Rachel Smith.

Woodburn will be hard-pressed to break through the murderous schedule that is the Oregon West. The Bulldogs’ top players that would presumably return include Tatyana Kalugin and Yami Rios.

From an objective standpoint, I would have to give Sweet Home the edge to take the Oregon West Conference title and if there was a state tournament, the Huskies would certainly be a major factor. As for league runner-up, I’d say it’s a toss-up between Sisters and Philomath — perhaps a slight edge to the Outlaws based on returning players but I like the Warriors and the “X” factor. Philomath cleared a major hurdle in 2019 with that win over Sisters in the playoffs.

The battle for fourth place could be a pretty good one with Stayton, Cascade and Newport in the mix. Coaching is important for any program, but could be the difference between those three teams and finishing fourth. Woodburn is in a tough place and even a single win in the Oregon West would be noteworthy for that program.

Philomath
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