Whether Blue Mountain or Mt. Hood wins today’s NWAACC volleyball championship match, Pendleton natives will earn a trophy.

That’s because Mt. Hood recruited Rylie Engelson and Sam Lyons, 2009 Pendleton High School graduates who opted to leave home for college.

Rather than wearing Timberwolves jerseys under Pendleton-born coach Dave Baty, the freshmen followed former Buckaroo coach Chelsie Speer to Gresham — and with zero regrets.

Engelson earned first-team all-Southern Region accolades in her first year as a setter, and was named Setter of the Month in October — one of two athletes to garner the honor.

“There’s not a lot of people who can do that, switching from high school middle blocker to setter at the next level,” Speer (Freeman) applauded Engelson. “She’s ran our court and our team well, and I’m very fortunate that I had her as a player in high school and that she found trust in me.”

Unlike her heavily-recruited best friend Engelson, Lyons was not expecting to play for Mt. Hood this year. She relocated to Gresham for an apartment share with Engelson — not volleyball — but worked her way from team manager to Saints defensive specialist after a player quit the team.

“We’ve called her Rudy all year,” Speer said. “We never planned on having her on the team, but she’s one of those kids where you would miss not having her. She never has a bad attitude, gives 100 percent every day in practice and is content with being part of the team; I love having her.”

Respected by her coaches and peers, Lyons plays an invaluable defensive role for Mt. Hood. Simply competing was a “dream come true,” much less for a team vying for an NWAACC crown.

“I worked really hard to try and get a spot (on Mt. Hood) and this is pretty much my dream come true to come here and play volleyball,” Lyons said as tears filled her eyes.

Neither Lyons, Engelson nor Speer feels detached from Pendleton by playing for Mt. Hood. They said a championship would belong equally to them and their hometown, despite Pendleton’s home college sharing a heated rivalry with their school.

“Pendleton is my home and I will always be a part of Pendleton,” Engelson said.

Speer’s and Lyons’ sentiment concurred, and the Saints coach insisted that “although I have never had pride in Blue Mountain, I will always have pride in that town.”

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