PENDLETON — The first two weeks of the volleyball season were a breeze for Pendleton, winning all five matches without dropping a single set.
Tuesday night’s game against The Dalles was anything but a breeze, however, even though the Buckaroos came out winners by a 3-1 score to remain unbeaten on the season. It was a week since Pendleton’s last game, and the rust was obvious with communication on the court lacking at times and Buckaroos giving away too many points to the Riverhawks.
“It feels good to win but we have to work for it and we didn’t play to our ability in this one,” Pendleton senior Rylee Gentner said. “We had a week break and getting into it, we were kind of rolling in the motions and we needed to pick it up like we normally do.”
Pendleton (6-0, 2-0 CRC) started the first set by seemingly going through the motions at times and held a 16-13 lead halfway through. The Bucks finished strong to take the first set 25-14 but then came out in the second set sluggish again and trailed the Riverhawks (2-5, 1-1) 7-6. But once again, Pendleton finished the set strong and pulled out a 25-16 victory.
In the third set the Buckaroos appeared on its way to yet another three-set sweep, using a 7-1 run to build a 20-13 lead on the Riverhawks. However, things went downhill quickly for Pendleton. The Riverhawks threw the Bucks off with short serves and long rallies, and started to build momentum and chip away at the lead. Before they knew it, The Dalles tied the set at 20-20 and eventually won the set 24-21.
“They kept doing short balls on serves and we would get frustrated,” Gentner said of the third set. “We just weren’t moving our feet as quick as we should have been. We were just getting frustrated with ourselves and with each other and we just couldn’t snap out of it.”
Pendleton coach Amanda Lapp tried to break up the Riverhawks’ 12-1 run with a pair of timeouts in the stretch, but nothing worked.
“Our fundamentals broke apart,” she said. “We weren’t going where we needed to be, we weren’t playing defense-first and things just weren’t clicking. I told them in the huddle that when things start breaking down we have to start thinking back to basics ... you have to want to play the ball first if you want to attack the ball and it just kind of fell apart in the third set.”
Pendleton was able to get back into a groove in the fourth set with a big help from the active front line of Gentner, Maureen Davies and Elli Nirschl. The trio chipped in with big kills, blocks and whatever else the team needed to help get back on the winning track, which the Buckaroos did to win the final set 25-15.
Davies led the team with a thundering 13 kills and two blocks, Gentner had 10 kils and Nirschl had five with one block. Senior setter Lauren Richards was a big helper for those three with 32 assists in the match.
“Eli stepped in big tonight as a leader and being vocal for us,” Lapp said. “She really tried to bring the whole team aspect out and get everybody fired up and rolling. We saw some big plays come out of her tonight and our front row’s really lighting it up as we get through the season.
“We had Rylee, Maureen and now Elli showing up and it’s nice to see everybody really coming together and working hard for things.”
Lapp also mentioned that a match like Tuesday’s that forced Pendleton to really dig deep and grind it out could be just what her team needed at this point in the season. With the way Pendleton was winning each match with relative ease and coming off of a 3-0 victory over the defending league champion Hood River Valley, the Buckaroos had perhaps come a bit too complacent.
“I think it will be good for them because they had started to relax, I think,” Lapp said. “And tonight The Dalles played hard and now my girls have a learning experience to come into ... I want the girls to learn every time they step on the court and I think this match tonight brought us a ton of things to learn and take down the road.”
Pendleton hosts Hermiston at 6:30 p.m.
Contact Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0839. Follow him on Twitter @ByEricSinger.