Dawgs close in on playoffs

Hermiston's Kayleigh Barnitz sends the ball over the net during Tuesday's Intermountain Conference game against Madras in Hermiston.<br><I>Staff photo by Sarah Britain

HERMISTON - The Bulldogs walked the fine line between serious and silliness Tuesday, mixing laughter and good volleyball into a 25-15, 25-20, 25-21 league win over Madras.

With the way the season's been going, it's been hard for the girls to not play with smiles on their faces, coach Darci Wellsandt said.

"Winning always makes the world go 'round a little easier," she said. "Athlete-wise and coaching-wise we're having a lot of fun and we're enjoying what we're doing."

Since a rough 0-2 home stand to open the IMC schedule, the Bulldogs (7-4, 5-4 IMC) have come on strong in the Intermountain Conference and are sitting in fourth place. If they can hold on to the spot or gain ground they're in the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

The team kept up its intensity Tuesday, staying in control of each game and holding off Madras (2-9, 1-7 IMC) for the sweep. The squad both served and received better than 90 percent, getting aces out of Jade Crossley, Maloree Moss, Mary Shae Hays and Kayleigh Barnitz.

Juniors Barnitz and Hays led the attack at the net, emphatically killing 16 of the team's 31 and each blocking two.

Though the girls spent much of the match laughing - both after good plays and bad - the players were careful to remember that each game is an opportunity for improvement.

"We came in knowing we had to take care of business," senior Marie Pedro said. "We want to win every match, but we also want to ... have fun."

Crossley said the team dynamic has gotten better since players have spent more time around each other.

"It's getting easier since we're getting to know each other," she said. "It's fun to play volleyball together."

Pedro and Crossley were the top setters of the night, putting up 21 of the team's 24 assists.

The team never trailed after the first 12 points of a game and made it a point to finish each set strong. The crowd, which hasn't been active at volleyball games this season, stood and cheered for the final point of the match.

"I think that's a part of the team creating that atmosphere and the fans understanding what's going on," Wellsandt said. "The crowd is recognizing some phrases to use and when they should be clapping, and they're bringing in a lot of excitement."

The Bulldogs have a long weekend ahead, starting with Mountain View Thursday, Bend Friday and concluding at the Clearwater Classic in Bend Saturday.

"We're looking for a win at Mountain View and hopefully against Pendleton, too," Pedro said. "We'd like to be third or even as high as second."

Wellsandt said the team has been focused on getting back at both Mountain View and Bend since losing in the IMC's opening matches.

The team will then face Class 6A teams West Linn, West Salem and Roseburg at the Clearwater Classic before coming home to play Pendleton next Thursday.

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