PHS volleyball team
Philomath High players pose for a team photo following Tuesday night’s three-set sweep at Baker in the 4A quarterfinals. (Photo courtesy of Juleia Dooley)

Coach Denee Newton hopes her players will want to break out the white jerseys when her Philomath High School volleyball squad takes the floor in Corvallis on Friday in the Class 4A semifinals. You see, the Warriors will be facing conference rival Sisters with the winner getting a shot at the state title. And those white jerseys have a favorable history when a low-seeded Warriors contingent squares off against the Outlaws in a match on the state stage.

Do you remember the match? The showdown occurred in the late morning hours of Nov. 8, 2019, at Forest Grove High School. Philomath came in seeded No. 10 and Sisters was a heavy favorite as the No. 2 team. But the Warriors were in the zone and pushed aside a history of coming up short against the Outlaws with a four-set victory. In the white uniforms.

A similar situation has materialized in this season’s playoffs. Philomath is seeded 13th with Sisters coming in at No. 1. The Outlaws defeated the Warriors in three sets at home and four sets on the road in their two Oregon West matchups this fall. But as Newton points out, Philomath (12-9) will come at Sisters (21-3) this time around with a new look and a new confidence that she feels could lead to a repeat of the 2019 outcome.

“Sisters is going to see a different team … so I’m excited about that,” Newton said after joking that the two teams will seemingly meet for the 25th time. “I’m going to try to convince them to wear white jerseys.”

You could say that Philomath made history on Tuesday night with a three-set sweep at Baker in the quarterfinals. What makes the accomplishment so unique is that teams seeded 13th don’t typically advance this far into the state playoffs. But can the Cinderella story continue in Corvallis?

Newton believes it can if Philomath shakes off any reluctance or hesitancy left in her players as they get ready to play Sisters. But beyond the mental, she also knows that her hitters need to be on the mark.

“I really like all of our hitters to be on and we tend to trade off — we have one hitter here and one hitter here and somebody else is reluctant,” Newton said in a phone interview from Baker. “As soon as we have five hitters that are all on and they are all smacking the ball, we’re winning state.”

That means no indecision.

“That’s what I want to see this week is that nobody’s hesitating,” she said. “We hesitate, our passing gets a little funky, our hitting gets a little funky and we make some mistakes. It makes for a more exciting game but it also creates a little bit more risk.”

In the victory at Baker, the Warriors appeared to put in a clean performance with few miscues, effective hitting and accurate serving to go along with a solid defense.

“What looks clean to everybody else, I’m thinking about what we need to do better,” Newton said. “I know they can win this whole tournament, I have no doubt in my mind, and so we want them to know that. We’re really pushing them; we’re thinking forward.”

Philomath established the upper hand from the very beginning against the Bulldogs. Senior Ashlynn Barron served three straight aces to open the match and Philomath led through most of the set. The home team rallied late and even took the lead on a few occasions. In fact, Baker had an opportunity to go up 1-0 with a 24-23 lead with serve. The Warriors tied the set when Baker fumbled the play in the front row and then took a 25-24 lead on an Abigail Brown hit down the right sideline that was set up by senior Reagan Larson.

After Baker took a timeout, Philomath with Sage Kramer serving won the set on a Bulldogs hit into the net.

“We were a little tighter than I think we expected going in because we watched quite a bit of film and had some ideas,” Newton said. “I think we underestimated those long rallies and how scrappy they were going to be but I think they were pretty effortless in that they were not worried, so that was big.”

Philomath trailed early on the second set but started to pull away with points coming in bunches with Larson at the service line. The Warriors turned a slim 4-3 lead into a 12-3 advantage during a stretch that included a couple of aces and a nifty quick hitter by Larson as well as a couple of Kramer kills. On one of the evening’s long rallies, Philomath kept the ball alive time after time with the point ending when a Baker player mishandled a hit.

The Bulldogs were more competitive over the rest of the set but could not overcome Philomath’s considerable lead. The Warriors scored several points with senior Taylor Row serving and Brown, Barron and Kramer all getting kills. Philomath won the set with Larson serving and Kramer winning a tip at the net.

It’s those little parts of the game that Newton said made a big difference in the final outcome.

“This might seem so less exciting but I think it’s just picking up some stuff that we haven’t all season, like making sure we don’t let tips drop,” she said. “We had a couple of funky things that felt heavy but it wasn’t much and so they’re doing a good job of making sure we’re keeping our game in system when other teams are out of system and that means picking up tips.”

In the third set, Baker played Philomath point for point early on with an 8-8 tie. The Warriors created a little bit of a cushion however and led 17-13. Baker came back, however, and trailed just 18-17 at one point. The Bulldogs only scored one more point the rest of the match.

First, Philomath got sideout on a Brown hit that deflected off a Baker block and out of bounds. Brown then served for five straight points with the Bulldogs hurting themselves with miscues and Philomath serving up Kramer for a kill.

Baker broke the scoring string with a block that made it 24-18 but the Warriors closed it out on a Barron kill.

On the stat sheet, Kramer had 16 kills while both Barron and Brown finished with eight. Larson and Clara Stanley also contributed to the hit production. Barron had a team-high four aces.

The Philomath-Sisters semifinal is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday at Corvallis High School. The other semifinal will feature No. 3 Valley Catholic and No. 2 seed Cascade. The Cougars advanced with a three-set sweep over Sweet Home on Tuesday. Valley Catholic went four sets to eliminate Cottage Grove.

If the Warriors win, the championship match is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday at CHS. If the Warriors lose, they would drop into a third/fourth place match at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, also at CHS.

Class 4A State Tournament

First Round
Friday, Oct. 29
(9) Siuslaw def. (8) North Marion, 27-25, 25-20, 25-14
Saturday, Oct. 30
(1) Sisters def. (16) Marist Catholic, 25-21, 25-14, 25-9
(5) Baker def. (12) Marshfield, 25-22, 25-14, 15-25, 16-25, 25-10
(13) Philomath def. (4) Mazama, 27-25, 25-20, 25-11
(3) Valley Catholic def. (14) Henley, 27-25, 22-25, 25-18, 25-9
(6) Cottage Grove def. (11) Tillamook, 25-18, 25-21, 20-25, 25-20
(7) Sweet Home def. (10) Junction City, 25-11, 25-18, 25-21
(2) Cascade def. (15) La Grande, 25-10, 25-20, 25-23
Tuesday, Nov. 2
(2) Sisters def. (9) Siuslaw, 25-23, 1-25, 26-24, 25-20
(13) Philomath def. (5) Baker, 26-24, 25-13, 25-18
(3) Valley Catholic def. (6) Cottage Grove, 20-25, 25-18, 25-16, 25-21
(2) Cascade def. (7) Sweet Home, 25-21, 25-15, 25-18
Friday, Nov. 5
At Corvallis HS
Sisters vs. Philomath, 6:30 p.m.
Valley Catholic vs. Cascade, 8:30 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 6
At Corvallis HS
Third/Fourth Place Match

Semifinal losers, 12:30 p.m.
Championship Match
Semifinal winners, 7 p.m. has no paywall and to keep it that way, we rely on voluntary memberships. If you’re already a member, thank you for contributing. To join our community as a member or to make a one-time contribution, please CLICK HERE.