The McNary volleyball team celebrates after defeating Grant in four sets in the first round of the OSAA playoffs (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).
Whether it was injuries, heartbreaking losses, or needing players to change positions, the McNary volleyball squad had their fair share of trials during the regular season.
But when adversity hit in the Celtics opening round playoff match against Grant, they responded in resounding fashion.
After dropping the first set, McNary rallied back to win the next three games, defeating Grant 19-25, 25-20, 25-17, 25-21 on Wednesday, Oct. 27 to win their first postseason match since 2015.
“I am so excited for them. We have been battling and overcoming one obstacle at a time with injuries and figuring out players playing different positions,” McNary head coach Crystal DeMello said. “They have been able to make that journey all season and come out here and take care of business against a great team. We are beyond happy.”
Junior middle blocker Emily Blagg led the Celtics with 16 kills and Emily Lettenmaier added 13 kills for the Celtics in the win.
“It feels amazing honestly. Our team really came together,” Lettenmaier said about the victory.
The Celtics led 10-6 in the first set, thanks to back-to-back kills from Blagg. However, Grant took advantage of some sloppy play from McNary and went on a 12-1 run to take a commanding 18-11 advantage. The Generals finished off the set by winning 25-19 to gain a 1-0 edge in the match.
Before the second set, DeMello made a key adjustment and subbed in an extra defensive specialist to help the Celtics cover the court better. The move paid dividends as McNary took a 14-7 lead to begin the second set, quieting the previously raucous home crowd.
“It is all about small adjustments. Defense is a huge component for us and we are so lucky to have five (defensive specialists) that push the pace of practice every single day,” DeMello said. “We were able to put a lot of them in at the same time and that was a game changer for us. They all did an excellent job.”
Another key for the Celtics was the return of junior setter Maddison Corpe, who had missed a chunk of the regular season due to an injury. Corpe had 38 assists on the night, and her crisp passing allowed the McNary hitters high-quality opportunities to put balls away at the net.
“Maddie is an excellent leader for us. She is a composed competitor that people can lean on,” DeMello said.
“It’s great to have her back on the court. Her communication helps us a lot,” Lettenmaier added.
McNary led by as many as nine in the second set. Grant staged a late rally, but consecutive kills by Taylor Detrant allowed the Celtics to take game two.
Both teams went back and forth to begin the third set, but with the score tied at 13-all, McNary began to take control, scoring 14 of the next 18 points to win 25-17.
“We wanted it more,” Corpe said. “Our energy and communication really stepped up.”
In the fourth set, Grant was able to stay with the Celts early. But as the game wore on, McNary continued to prove that they were the better team.
With Grant up 13-11, the Celtics rattled off six straight points to go up 17-13, forcing the Generals to burn a timeout. A stuff block from Jaelynn Wilcox and a kill by Maddox Snider allowed the Celtics to extend the lead to 21-15.
Lettenmaier ended the match with an emphatic kill to send the Celtics to the second round.
DeMello said the most encouraging aspect of the victory was seeing the trust and confidence her girls had in each other.
“All of them wanted the ball and all of them trusted that there was someone behind them if they were out of position. It was excellent to see them lean on each other and put together a great team effort,” she said.
McNary will take on South Salem fifth-ranked South Salem in the second round of the playoffs at 2 p.m. on Saturday. Despite being competitive in each match, the Celtics fell in straight sets to the Saxons in both meetings this season, but DeMello still believes that her team has the ability to pull off the upset.
“I’m their coach and I see their potential every day. I know we can play even better than we did tonight,” DeMello said.
Matt Rawlings: [email protected]