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Ashland nabs No. 2 spot in playoff

North beats South to decide the third and fourth seeds to state

ASHLAND ' Think back to the beginning of September and Southern Oregon Conference volleyball coaches' poll.

Ashland High was touted to finish second, and that's exactly where the Grizzlies wound up after beating North Medford and South Medford in a three-team playoff format Monday on the Ashland court.

The three teams tied for second place in the regular season. After its two wins, Ashland earned the No. 2 berth to state. It beat North, 25-13, 25-21, 22-25, 25-18, and South, 25-19, 25-14, 25-8.

North later defeated South, 25-21, 25-18, 25-13, to gain the No. — berth, leaving the Panthers as the SOC's No. 4 team.

South will host the No. 4 team from the Portland Interscholastic League on Thursday, while North visits the Pac-9 Conference champion on Saturday.

— Ashland is host Saturday to South Salem, the No. 2 team from the Valley League.

Roseburg won the league title.

After it defeated North Monday, Ashland faced a fresh South squad. In their previous meeting, the Panthers downed the Grizzlies in five games. That victory gave South the best record against the other second-place teams and the first-match bye Monday.

I think our team really pulled it together tonight, Ashland sophomore outside hitter Sarah Holgen said. We wanted tonight so bad, we really put it all out there.

In the playoff, Ashland broke away from the Panthers midway through the first game with a 12-2 run that gave the Grizzlies to a 20-10 lead. Although South made a late run, it couldn't break catch the home team.

It's a double-edged sword, Panther coach Adam Wagman said. We get the bye, but Ashland gets fired up on all cylinders.

Still, the fatigue of playing two intense matches in five hours got to the Ashland players in Game 2.

Coming into today it didn't make me nervous, Ashland coach Josh Rohlfing said. We play in a lot of tournaments, so we should be used to it, but the energy level dropped off.

In Game 2, the Grizzlies battled back from four- and five-point deficits, eventually knotting the contest at 24 when Rohlfing put sophomore outside hitter Emily Oswald into serve South's game point.

Oswald's short serve caught the edge of the net and slipped down onto the Panther side of the court.

But South wasn't through. With back-to-back kills from Peggy Thompson and Jennifer Mendenhall, the Panthers evened the match at 1-all.

It started over, Rohlfing said. We'd gained nothing, we'd lost nothing.

It looked like South had lost something though.

The Panthers mustered just 22 points in the last two games, while the Grizzlies used the energy from the crowd to blow past South and into second place.

We just didn't play to the level we're capable of playing, Wagman said. It still doesn't mean at some point we can't step it up.

Senior outside hitter Jessica Walters paced the Grizzlies with seven aces, four kills and 21 digs in the South match. Holgen had a team-high 13 kills and added two blocks and four digs. Senior setter Lindsey Stone had 32 assists.

In the first match, Walters had a well-rounded 16 kills, three blocks, 20 digs and an ace. Holgen recorded eight kills and 15 digs, while Stone had 34 assists, 14 digs and two blocks.

North Medford senior outside hitter Jessica Durham led all players with 20 kills. Senior setter Allanah Munson had 27 assists and senior defensive specialist Kelsey Hamilton had 13 digs.

After being swept by the Panthers during the regular season, North fired on all cylinders in the third-fourth match.

We've had some strategies to work on against (South) but in both previous games, we tended to not stick to it, North coach Ron Beick said. Tonight was the first time we stuck to it for three complete games.

Durham led the way with 12 kills and six digs. Munson set up the Black Tornado well with 24 assists to go along with three aces.

Erica Schultz had only six kills but had a .556 attack percentage, Beick said, which is like a baseball average; it's exceptional.

Jennifer Squires is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 482-3456.