ECHO — For the eight years that Janice Scott has been at the helm of the Echo volleyball team, the Cougars never made it passed the first round of postseason play. In fact, it had been two years since Echo made it to the Class 1A playoffs — its 2015 run was cut short with a loss in Round 1 to Dufur.
That all changed for the Cougars on Wednesday night. For the first time, Echo hosted a state playoff game, and also for the first time the Cougars will advance to Round 2. Echo easily defeated Jordan Valley in three straight sets (25-11, 25-16, 25-11) and had one of its best outings all season.
Prior to this match, Echo swept three out of its last five opponents. But none had a greater margin of victory than the win over the Mustangs (15-8 overall, 6-1 High Desert League).
“We’re finally starting to work together as a unit,” Scott said. “It’s not just one it’s all six — or all nine because the girls on the bench really help out too. We’ve been working really hard at getting our passes up where they need to be so we can keep the ball in system, and they have been doing that and hitting well.”
The Cougars (16-9, 10-5 Old Oregon League) commanded the lead in all three sets, and only fell behind the Mustangs twice in the first set due to service errors.
In that first set, Echo went on a 14-5 run to distance itself from Jordan Valley and take a 16-8 lead. The Mustangs next point would be the last their would earn, a quick tip over the net landed just outside of a Cougar’s reach. Echo made sure that wouldn’t happen again.
Senior Marti Huff and sophomore Tylene Skillman each had huge blocks that sandwiched a kill from senior Monique Montoya to push the lead to 19-9.
Skillman and Montoya would go on to earn the four of the six points that sealed Echo’s first set victory.
“Tylene is (a) huge (asset),” Scott said. “She has been covering things that are unbelievable and getting things that we would not even think they would be. She just reads the ball well and she is just someone I can put in there and depend on her to get it.”
The Cougars again reaped the benefits of Skillman’s work at the net, as well as the efforts of senior Alyssa Ray, when they returned to the court. Ray tallied four of her six kills in the second set, but overall Echo relied on Jordan Valley for most of its points.
A 10-2 run that put the Cougars up 21-9 was mostly thanks to attacking errors and a few long balls from the Mustangs’ offense.
Going into the third and final set, Jordan Valley was visibly frustrated. After the Mustangs handed Echo the 25-16 second set victory, they need to get back to the play that allowed them to qualify for playoffs.
Jordan Valley had won eight of its last 10 matches — one due to a forfeit — and only gave up nine sets in the process.
“We were expecting a game, and we were ready for them,” Scott said. “We saw them in North Powder at the tournament. We didn’t get to play them, we watched them but of course that was early in the season so we knew they were going to be ready to play, so we came out ready to play as well. I told (the girls), ‘just be ready for anything.’”
Another long run highlighted the third set, where Huff’s talent was on display yet again.
After four errors and down 14-6, Jordan Valley took at timeout. And that breather helped the Cougars more than it did the Mustangs. Huff notched a block and then seconds later a kill to put Echo up 19-7. She again made her presence felt at the net to force the match point after a block landed out every Mustangs reach. Echo couldn’t wait to seal the deal, and took their first opportunity at match point to cement the sweep.
“They are excited, they are just leaving it all out there,” Scott said. “They have nothing to lose. So they are just playing whole heartedly and with everything they’ve got.”
Plenty of other Cougars also helped out Wednesday night. Junior Lexie Cox ended the night with five kills, two digs, and two aces. Huff had a team-high eight blocks, and Skillman followed with six of her own. Montoya finished with four digs, three kills, and two aces. Ray led with six kills.
“We definitely worked hard at the net, with passing, hitting — we were in our rotation,” Ray said. “We did everything we could have done out there tonight.
Echo will have a quick turnaround with its second round game on Saturday at Country Christian High School.
HELIX ADVANCES, IONE FALTERS: Elsewhere in the 1A first round, the Helix Grizzlies and Ione Cardinals were both in action.
Helix kept its season alive as it held off Dufur 3-2 to advance to the second round. Ione came up short on the road against North Clackamas Christian as the Cardinals fell 3-1 (28-26, 14-25, 3-25, 16-25.)
Ione ends the season with a 9-20 overall record. Helix (21-9) will play again on Saturday in the second round at North Douglas.
Contact Alexis at email@example.com or 541-564-4542. Follow her on Twitter @almansanarez.