By Eric Trent
TACOMA — Down two sets to one, halfway thru the fourth set, top-ranked Chemeketa was trailing seventh-ranked Bellevue 11-4 after surrendering eight-straight points.
Storm freshman setter and South Region MVP Jane Cale caught her breath with her hands on her knees and smiled at her teammates reassuringly.
Then the Storm (30-4) stormed back, reeling off a 21-10 run to end the fourth set in a 25-21 win. In the final set, the Storm buried the Bulldogs (38-14) in an avalanche of kills from sophomore outside hitter Haley Patterson that vaulted Chemeketa to its fourth conference volleyball title.
Cale, who won the tourney MVP after piling up 46 assists in the five-set match – more than double of any other player – knew all along the Storm weren’t going to be flustered.
“I think we did that all tournament,” Cale said. “We were just talking this morning about how when we’re down, we’re not stressed out. I think that’s something special about everyone.”
Chemeketa came in riding a 23-match win streak and won three-of-five sets, 22-25, 25-16, 16-25, 25-21 and 15-12, to claim its first title since 2008. The Storm also won back-to-back in 1997 and 1998.
Chemeketa coach Traci Stephenson, who brought the 2015 No. 1 ranked Chemeketa team to the tourney and was ousted before the finals, said the Storm keeping their cool was the difference-maker in the win.
“The girls do a really good job of staying level-headed and not thinking too far in front of themselves,” Stephenson said. “They’re just thinking about the point that’s going on. That’s what’s helped us be the most successful.”
Sophomore outside hitter Haley Patterson, who won Most Inspirational, unleashed a match-high 23 kills, including a barrage that put the final set away for the Storm, said they never lose their cool.
“We really never get flustered,” Patterson said. “We’re always a calm, cool and collected team. If you look at us, you can never tell that we’re losing.”
Stephenson said she’s happy to win a title in just her seventh season as coach.
“It’s something that we all strive for,” Stephenson said. “That’s what you’re trying to get to every year. I feel very blessed and honored.”
Chemeketa, the lone unbeaten team in the tourney, and No. 1 seed in the South Region, ran rampant through the winner’s bracket, shutting out Centralia, 3-0, routing fourth-ranked Columbia Basin and sixth-ranked Walla Walla, both 3-1, then overwhelming No. 4 Clark, 3-1, in the semifinals.
“We worked so hard all year,” Cale said. “I feel that we didn’t work harder than every team, but we just put in the most time. Since August, we had triple-workouts for like eight weeks. It just feels really good.”
Most Valuable Player – Jane Cale – Chemeketa
Most Inspirational – Haley Patterson
Coach of the Year – Traci Stephenson
Olivia White – Clark
Sara Fanger – Linn-Benton
Averi Dyer – Bellevue
Erika Weber – Bellevue
Lalah Oche – Chemeketa
Haley Patterson – Chemeketa
Mary Schorn – Clark
Montana Gubrud – Linn-Benton
Nina Bailey – Lower Columbia
Abbey Schwager – Walla Walla
Carlee Rowell – Chemeketa
Morgan Bolger – Chemeketa
Click to Enlarge
L-R: MVP Jane Cale, Coach of the Year Traci Stephenson and Most Inspirational Haley Patterson.