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Grizzlies notch big road win at North

The Ashland Grizzlies are overwhelming favorites to claim their first Southern Oregon Conference volleyball championship since 1994.

The Grizzlies did little to dissuade anyone of the notion Tuesday night in their first test against an SOC contender.

Ashland deflected defending SOC champion North Medford's best shot in the first game and went on to register a 15-11, 15-6 victory at North.

I think of it as a mental hurdle, said Ashland's senior setter Chelsea Morgan. I've played varsity four years and each time we've come over here, we've lost.

You see the uniform, the name -- and they did a great job tonight. It shows us that it's not who you're playing, but how they play that's important.

The Grizzlies are playing at a high clip right now, having lost only to second-ranked Central Catholic of Portland, while starting 3-0 in the SOC.

Ashland is a bona fide top-5 or top-4 team, said North Medford coach Ron Beick, whose team finished third in last year's Class 4A state tournament.

From 1987 to 1994 the Grizzlies won or shared eight SOC titles and have topped the standings 16 times in 27 years.

The Grizzlies showed poise when North broke out to a 9-4 advantage as juniors Jill Carrigan and Kendra Mitchell and sophomore Chaley Higgins came out pounding away at the net. The Tornado threw up a double block against Ashland's middle attack.

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Amy Williams of Ashland (6) deflects — Candice Fleener's hit.

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Before the match I told the girls they were going to take us out of the middle, because that's what we do well, Ashland coach Josh Rolphing said. Obviously, they did the game plan and we had to push the ball to the antennas.

We were so emotionally high, we couldn't calm down and initiate our game plan. You can have all the schemes and tactics you want, but if you can't stay calm you're not going to do anything.

Chelsea Johnson helped calm down the Grizzlies when she served four straight points, including three aces, to make it 9-8.

I knew we had to step it up, said Johnson. I just kept moving the ball around.

One rotation later Amy Williams put Ashland on top 10-9 with an ace. But kills by Helen Williams and Mitchell tied it up, 11-11.

Senior Loriana Berman put the Grizzlies back in control, serving three pivotal points. Morgan's dump broke the tie, Rachael Karlin and Morgan combined for a stuff block and then Amy Williams kept the ball alive with a diving save with her back to the net that led to the 14th point.

After an exchange of sideouts, Jill Stranberg served the final point.

Junior setter Kaci Maldonado served North into a 6-4 lead in the second game before Carrie Manning countered with four points to make it 8-6 Ashland. Stranberg served for four more, including an ace, as Williams and Johnson added kills.

After another exchange of sideouts Morgan served the final three points with Leslea Brown downing the final two kills.

We haven't played in front of a crowd like tonight and everyone pulled together, Morgan said. Our level of volleyball was OK. It's the beginning of the season, though, and I'm not satisfied where we're at. I want to get better.

Berman topped the Grizzlies with six kills and seven digs. Johnson had four kills and four digs. Stranberg and Williams had six digs each. Morgan had 11 assists.

North was paced by Carrigan's five kills and six digs. Mitchell had four kills, five digs and three blocks. Higgins had four kills and four blocks.

The Tornado was without outside hitter Kara Hwang, who was diagnosed with mononucleosis this week.

We only had one practice without her, Beick said. Amy Bakker stepped in and played extremely well.

Despite falling to 1-2 in conference play and 1-3 overall, Beick was pleased with his team's progress.

We had 29 unforced errors in the first game and 25 in the second game, Beick said. That's an awful lot of unforced errors. But those are things we can fix and that gives us a lot of motivation.

We're a step or two behind. It was a loss tonight, but I'm excited about where we're going.

Grizzlies notch big road win at North Photo by Bob Pennell Rachael Karlin of Ashland celebrates the Grizzlies' win over North Medford.