by Mike Weber
for the Burns Times-Herald
The Hilanders’ Taylor Crafts pounds a kill in the first set of the Class 2A volleyball state championship match versus Culver Saturday, Nov. 7. (Photo by MIKE WEBER)
In the new CBS television series Supergirl, the hero’s true identity is unknown to other characters. There wasn’t any doubt about the identity of the hero at the Class 2A state volleyball tournament in Redmond though.
Burns High junior Catherine Clemens portrayed the role of Supergirl just perfectly too. Clemens was flying all over the court along with her teammates to help lead the Hilanders (28-3) to a 25-12, 25-14, 25-20 win over the Culver Bulldogs (30-4) in the OSAA/U.S. Bank/Les Schwab Tires state championship game Saturday night at Ridgeview High School.
It marked the 34th consecutive win (in Class 2A) for coach Paula Toney’s two-time champion Hilanders, who also won the 2014 title after going undefeated a year ago. On Friday, Burns won a quarterfinal contest 3-0 over the Imbler Panthers (19-8), followed by a 3-1 semifinal win over the Kennedy Trojans (24-7) to advance to the finals.
“There was a lot of pressure on us all year long, and the girls really came through under pressure to take care of business and win the championship game,” said Toney. “We were kind of expected to win again. When you have a big target like that on your back, it really makes it much tougher to win though, because everyone wants to beat us.”
Led by Clemens (12 kills, 16 digs) and senior setter Carli Feist (26 assists) Burns had a dominating overall performance in the finals versus the Columbia Basin Conference champion Bulldogs, the local area favorite. Clemens and Feist both earned All Tournament First Team awards. The title contest was a rematch of a game earlier this season between the two teams (a 3-0 Burns win Sept. 10).
“We had lots of confidence going into the game, and it’s such a great feeling to win another state championship, and I’m very proud of my team,” said Clemens. “We had a little bit of a letdown in the third set, but I’m so proud of the way we came back after falling behind. It’s just a blessing, honestly, to be able to win another championship. I’m just really proud of my team for the way they all stepped up and worked so hard to help us win.”
Burns jumped into a big early first set lead and led all the way in the double digit 25-12 victory, with Clemens getting the game-winning kill. In the second set, the Hilanders again jumped in front with a strong attack at the net by Clemens and junior middle blocker Taylor Crafts (nine kills), who pounded a ball to the floor for a 14-4 lead.
“It’s really special to win the championship because volleyball is such a big part of my life, and my team is like my family,” said Crafts. “It just means so much to me to celebrate this with them, and it’s definitely an unforgettable moment. Our number one team goal was to end up at the state tournament championship game again. I have so much confidence in my team, and I never had any doubt about whether we would make it here.”
The teams traded points, as Burns continued leading 18-8. Junior middle blocker Lindsey Taylor (eight kills) tipped a ball to the floor for game point at 24-13, and Clemens followed with a game-winning kill in the 25-14 win.
“It feels so good to be a part of this team,” said Taylor, a newcomer who moved to Burns from Pendleton and is playing in her first year with the Hilanders. “We have a very good volleyball program, and it’s so exciting to play in the state tournament for my first time, and I’m so proud to be on this team.”
The Bulldogs tried valiantly to avoid a sweep, while coming out with a strong third set rally in which they scored the first eight points and then extended their advantage to 15-3. However, the Hilanders brought their brooms with them and didn’t want to extend the game to a fourth set.
“We actually practice similar situations just like we had today, where we’re down by 15 points, and we have to come back and win,” said Toney. “It was probably the largest deficit we had in a game this year. We were a little worried, but we just focused on getting one point at a time and then it worked out well for us.”
The Hilanders simply shifted their offense into high gear and outscored the Bulldogs 17-1 to force a Bulldog timeout, as Burns took a 20-16 lead on kills by Taylor and Crafts. Culver responded with a 4-0 run, knotting it at 20-20. Kills by Crafts, Taylor and Clemens propelled the Hilanders in front 23-20. Burns then concluded the game by getting the final two points after Culver hitting errors with balls hit into the net.
The Hilanders then celebrated their championship with congratulatory hugs, while loudly yelling and cheering for their joyful and remarkable accomplishment. The players also did a traditional dogpile on the court, and had a wonderful and happy celebration with all their friends and family members.
In the Hilanders’ opening round quarterfinal match versus the No. 5 ranked Imbler Panthers (19-8), Burns recorded a sweep in 25-18, 25-19, 27-25 win in an 8 a.m. Friday contest. Imbler was one of three Wapiti League squads in the tournament, along with Burns and Grant Union. It marked the third meeting between the two squads, and Burns won the previous two regular season games 3-0.
The Panthers battled hard in the second set, while building a 10-5 advantage to force a Burns timeout. Burns came back with a 9-4 run, knotting it 14-14 on a Crafts kill, followed by four consecutive deadlocked scores. With Imbler ahead 18-17, a Burns sideout knotted it 18-18. Clemens (eight kills, four aces, 11 digs) then served four straight service points, putting Burns up 22-18. Following consecutive Imbler hitting errors, Burns had game point with a 24-19 lead. Crafts, an All Tournament Second Team award recipient, pounded a game-winning kill for the 25-19 win.
A tough, seesaw third set battle included numerous ties and lead changes, as the Panthers fought hard to try and avoid a sweep. Imbler played tough while leading late and had game point up 24-23. Two knotted scores followed as it was 25-25. The Panthers hit a ball out over the end line, and then Clemens pounded a game-winning kill for the 27-25 quarterfinal match victory. Feist had a total of 27 assists versus Imbler to help lead the highly-prolific Hilander offense.
“I have a lot of trust in our hitters, our passers, and everyone else on our team, and we felt confident that we could come out and win another championship,” said Feist. “It’s like a dream come true to win just one championship, but to do it again this year is just amazing. All the hard work we did all year definitely made it worth it.”
Burns then moved onto the semifinals Friday against Kennedy. The Trojans battled tough and were hoping for an upset, particularly after winning the first set 25-23. The Hilanders had no intention of letting that unlikely scenario happen, and they won three straight sets to advance to the finals.
Kennedy played tough, while battling to a second set deadlock at 17-17. Following a Burns timeout, the Hilanders had an 8-2 rally to get the victory. In the third set, which included six ties and five lead changes, Burns took control after a final deadlock at 12-12. A 5-1 Hilander run made it 17-13. The teams then traded points for the remainder of the set, with Burns getting a 25-20 win on a Clemens game-winning kill.
“I have to give all the credit to our setter (Feist), because she really works her butt off, and she always plays very well,” said Clemens. “I’m really proud of her for playing so well, because if you don’t have a good set, then you can’t make a good kill.”
Kennedy led early in the fourth set up 2-0, but Burns came back and got a sideout making it 2-1. Taylor then served six straight service points for a 7-2 Hilander advantage. The squads traded points, with Burns continuing to lead 16-11 and forcing a Kennedy timeout. Burns then surged ahead at the end to conclude the match on a 9-2 run, which included another Clemens game-winning kill in the 25-13 win to qualify for the championship game.
“Kennedy is a very good team, and they made us fight for every point,” said Toney. “It seems like everybody wants to beat us, and other teams go all out to try and do that.”
The tournament marked the final game of their Burns High School volleyball career for seniors Korina Cate, Madison Carson, Kaylea Freidrichsen, Abby Nonnenmacher and Alyssa Burri.
“We’re definitely going to miss our seniors, but we’ll have a bunch of juniors coming back again, so hopefully they’ll all fill in the roles that those seniors had this year,” said Toney.