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St. Mary's comes up short of 3A crown

EUGENE — Third-seeded St. Mary's faced a tall challenge in Saturday night's OSAA 3A Volleyball State Championship final against Santiam Christian — literally.

The Eagles' front row featured two of the state's top outside hitters in Anna Wruck and Sara Almen, both listed at 6-foot-2, and the duo didn't disappoint.

Feeding off a strong Santiam Christian passing game, Wruck and Almen combined for 30 kills to power the Eagles to a 25-17, 25-23, 25-15 win over a resolute but ultimately overmatched St. Mary's squad and a second-consecutive state championship at Lane Community College in Eugene.

"We definitely had the energy levels where we needed them," said Santiam Christian coach Kim McLain, whose third-seeded team swept No. 1 seed Burns on Friday to earn its spot in the final. "We were so excited just to be back. We had set that goal to try to get to this game, so they were really digging down deep."

Eagles' seniors Zoey Martin and Whitney Hightower combined for 27 digs and freshman teammate Madison McLain recorded a match-high 34 assists to set up big hitters Wruck and Almen, a combination for which the Crusaders had no answer.

"We shut them down a couple times and tried to make them go to other options," said first-year St. Mary's coach Colleen Christensen, whose team captured the Southern Cascade Conference championship and finished the year 18-3. "We knew we were going to have to block those girls, and we just did the best we could. We brought our defense up, and I thought we put up a good fight. "

Coming off a five-game win over Creswell in the semifinals on Friday, the Crusaders jumped to a quick 4-2 lead in the first game on a kill by senior Kylee Adderson, but led by Wruck and Almen up front, Santiam Christian (32-2) ripped off an 11-2 run and coasted from there.

St. Mary's fell behind 9-4 early in the second game, but fought back to take a 14-13 lead, keyed by the strong serving of senior Kate Traister and a spate of attack and passing errors by the Eagles. The two teams seesawed back and forth, neither leading by more than two points, on the way to a 23-23 tie. But then Almen struck with a kill to give Santiam Christian a one-point margin, followed by another off the left wing to seal a pivotal two-games-to-none lead.

"We kept making little efforts to come back and get in there, but it's undoubtable that Santiam Christian is an amazing team," Christensen said. "We battled back then something would just not fall right. We made all the adjustments we could make, so we just had to go for it the best we could. We were in the right spot as much as possible and made the best plays we could to minimize our mistakes and make them earn points."

Down 2-0 for the second time in as many nights, Saint Mary's responded with an inspired attack to open Game 3, taking an 8-5 lead on a kill by junior Alexi Provost-Shean. But a late 7-0 run, much of it with Almen serving for the Eagles, put the game, and the championship, out of reach.

"This was our goal for the entire season," said Almen, a junior, who along with Wruck, a senior, were named to the all-tournament first team. "Every practice, every game, we were thinking about the championship. We really wanted to repeat, and we finally got it."

Pitted against the strong Santiam Christian block, Anderson recorded nine kills against just two attack errors for St. Mary's to cap a strong season for the senior, who was named to the all-tournament first team. Provost-Shean added seven kills for St. Mary's, as the Crusaders improved on a third-place finish in last year's 2A state championships.

"We were so stoked coming into the match," said Adderson, just before she and the team's other four seniors enveloped their first-year coach in a tear-stained but joyful bear hug. "The whole tournament we've been waiting to come into this game and give it all we've got. We weren't expected to win, and we knew that, but we were going to come in and try our hardest until the very last point."