North Medford High wrestling coach Phillip Lopez isn't the type to get carried away.
Cascade Christian and Phoenix were pushed to the five-set limit as they qualified for their respective volleyball state tournaments.
The going doesn't seem to get easier as they prepare for quarterfinal-round matches today in Eugene.
"At this point, it gets pretty tough," said Cascade Christian coach Rob Kleker.
The Challengers (19-5) get started bright and early in the Class 3A tournament at Lane Community College. They face Valley Catholic (17-7) of Beaverton at 8 a.m.
The 4A event, which includes Phoenix (18-5), is also at Lane CC. The Pirates take on Banks (20-5) at 3:15 p.m.
The winners advance to the semifinal round tonight. The losers enter consolation play Saturday. The championship finals are Saturday evening.
Valley Catholic is ranked fourth in the OSAA power rankings and Cascade Christian seventh. The two met in pool play at the Santiam Christian Tournament in late September, and Valley Catholic won both sets.
"We didn't show up to play that match," lamented Kleker. He added, "They're very talented."
The two teams have vanquished common opponents Dayton and Willamina, and each lost to Santiam Christian, the No. 3 team in the power rankings.
Four of Valley Catholic's losses have come against the three top-ranked 3A teams: No. 1 Corbett, which likely will be the winner's semifinal foe; No. 2 Blanchet Christian and No. 3 Santiam Christian.
Meanwhile, the Challengers own victories this season over 5A teams Ashland and Eagle Point and 4A Phoenix.
Following the pool-play loss to Valley Catholic 11/2; months ago, which isn't counted on the teams' season records, Cascade Christian was beaten in the consolation finals by Central. It hasn't lost since, winning nine straight.
The most recent, a harrowing five-setter against Salem Academy — each set was decided by the minimum two points — was last Saturday and launched them to state.
"I think we've grown up a quite a bit," Kleker said, referring to the first meeting against Valley Catholic. "If we play the best volleyball we can, I feel like we can compete with any team in the state."
The Challengers prefer to play at a quick pace, and the goal today is to get all three hitters attacking the net for each block.
Junior outside hitter Karlee Britton, the player of the year in the Southern Cascade Hybrid, can handle most one-on-one situations at the net, said Kleker.
"I'm confident she'll be able to find the floor with the ball in those instances," he said.
The passing of defensive specialists Courtney Case and Paige Bruce will be pivotal in getting middle hitters Madigan Smith and MacKenzie Kelton going. When they're in the flow, it creates more and better opportunities for Britton.
"It makes you multidimensional and keeps the defense guessing," said Kleker.
To prepare for today's early start, the Challengers practiced at 6:30 a.m. this week.
Phoenix won't have an early wake-up call, but it will have a challenge.
The Pirates advanced by rallying from two sets down to defeat Sutherlin in the first round Saturday.
Banks and Phoenix have not played each other and they don't have any common opponents. Banks defeated Cascade in its first-round match Saturday.
The Cowapa League-champion Braves — state runners-up in 2010 — have twice taken on Corbett, the top-ranked 3A team, winning 2-0 and losing 3-2.
Skyline Conference-champion Phoenix is making its first tournament appearance since 2004, when it placed sixth. Coach Shonda Bursk played on that Pirates team.
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