Senior hitter Clara Stanley powers a shot through a couple of Salem Academy blockers during Thursday night's match. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Only a sophomore, Salem Academy’s hard-hitting 6-foot-1 Emma Brewer proved to be a problem Thursday evening for Philomath High in the local team’s first home appearance.

“She’s phenomenal, she’s an all-state player,” PHS coach Autumn Hilberg said following Salem Academy’s 25-21, 21-25, 25-18, 26-24 win. “I mean, they fed her the entire game and we couldn’t stop her.”

Brewer, wearing No. 6, led the Crusaders to the Class 2A state title last season and this past summer played with an elite club program.

“We saw her a little bit in the jamboree but she didn’t really play much then,” Hilberg said. “But we knew she was going to be tough. We had a game plan and we just didn’t execute.”

Despite the four-set victory, Salem Academy didn’t exactly chase the Warriors out of their own gym. After dropping the first set, the Warriors fought back to even the match in the second set. Salem Academy regained the advantage by taking the third but Philomath was right there in the fourth with opportunities to force a 15-point fifth set.

Ashleigh Brown, left, and Kynlee Albin make a play on the ball at the net against the Crusaders. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath led 19-17 at one point in the fourth set before two teams traded points down the stretch. The Crusaders reached match point at 24-22 but Philomath responded with two straight points to tie it up. Junior Ashleigh Brown got the ball over on a shot that Salem Academy couldn’t handle on the 23rd point and then a Crusaders hit attempt on a difficult angle was out on the 24th point.

Salem Academy’s Brewer took over from there, however, and closed it out with her hitting on the final two points.

“I think they learned a lot about themselves — how to be mentally tough or who’s going to step up to be mentally tough,” Hilberg said about her squad.

As for bright spots in the four-set loss, Hilberg singled out the efforts of junior Kynlee Albin and Brown for their play at the net.

“Our assignment was to stay on No. 6 and they did not always block the ball down but they got really good touches,” Hilberg said, who also mentioned senior hitter Ava Theurer as a player who came in and hit well.

Philomath’s highlight of the evening came in the second by rallying late from a 21-18 deficit to take the set. After an Albin hit cut the Salem Academy lead to two, freshman Nora Stanley followed and served the next six points to close it out, including an ace that fell just inside the back line to tie it at 21. She finished with a team-high four aces.

Philomath senior hitter Clara Stanley had a key hit on the 20th point during that run and ended up with 15 kills for the match to go along with her 31 digs on defense. Brown, the team’s primary setter, finished with 37 assists and also had a team-high three blocks.

Ahnika Tryon, left, and Madison Juhl go up for an attempted block. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Warriors now take a break from competition until a Sept. 19 match against Cascade. The Cougars were ranked No. 2 in the OSAAtoday preseason coaches poll and currently have a 3-0 record — although they will play several other matches before the trip to Philomath.

“We’ve got 10, 12 days until league, until we play Cascade and we have a lot to work on and we’d better be ready to work,” Hilberg said.

Cascade was last season’s state runner-up and defeated Philomath twice in straight sets.

“I think skill-wise we can compete better with them than last year,” Hilberg said. “We just need to have a great effort.”

Philomath will host a 10-team junior varsity tournament Saturday.

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.

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