ECHO — Although the Echo Cougars took a trip to the first round of state last year, the pressure the second time around was even greater.
The Cougars, who swept two back-to-back home matches to claim the Big Sky League championship, had a bye for the first round before hosting Saturday’s second round of the 1A state volleyball playoffs, where they were set to face the Valley 10 League’s second-ranked Damascus Christian Eagles, who had only dropped three matches on the season.
“I feel like there was even more pressure this time,” Echo senior middle blocker Tylene Skillman said. “(Damascus Christian) is a strong team. They’re good.”
The pressure proved a little too much for the Cougars to handle as they fell 25-21, 25-22 25-20 to the Eagles. The Eagles rode the momentum from Wednesday’s three-set sweep of Dufur in the first round.
“We’re a very young team,” Echo coach Janice Scott said. “We’ve started three freshmen all year. One of the detriments to having a young team is the pressure.”
Despite the loss, the Cougars came out swinging, taking a 5-0 lead to open the contest. The Eagles battled their way up to cut the deficit to 6-5, but freshman outside hitter Elliot Glenn’s kill kept Echo alive.
The lead wouldn’t last, however, as an Echo error tied the score at 7-7 and the Eagles took flight on a seven-point streak that put them ahead for good.
A Skillman kill would pull the Cougars within one point at 21-20, but the Eagles withstood the rally, and junior libero McKenna Patrick got the set’s winning point.
“They found a lot of holes we had on the floor,” Scott said of Damascus Christian. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to cover them.”
Echo knotted the score five times in the early minutes of the second set. Skillman notched a block and an ace to break the tie twice, but the Eagles were quick to recover, breaking ahead for a brief lead off of senior middle blocker Katie Bailey’s block at 14-13.
“We knew they’d be ready to fight,” said Bailey, whose team made its first playoff appearance since 2003, “but we came ready. We really focused on our defense during practice this week. It was key tonight.”
Glenn forced an error on the Eagles for a 22-22 set, but three consecutive Echo errors kept it from securing the win.
“Our service errors did us in tonight,” Scott said.
Damascus Christian took control early on in the third set until a Skillman block tied the score for the final time at 16-16. Eagles freshman setter Sierra Hale served for match point, earning her team a trip to the final eight.
Although the Cougars’ season came to an end Saturday evening, it is one that will be remembered.
“This was the best season we’ve had in a long time,” Echo senior middle blocker Katrina Morrison said. “We never got down on ourselves, and we always worked together as a team.”