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PREP VOLLEYBALL: Challengers fall short in league playoff

Looking to wrap up an automatic berth in the Class 3A state playoffs, Cascade Christian gave all it had Saturday night but a few untimely mistakes allowed South Umpqua to gain momentum and win a back-and-forth Far West League playoff match.

The third-seeded Lancers upset No. 2 Cascade Christian, 25-11, 23-25, 25-21, 11-25, 19-17, to reach a league championship match later Saturday against top-seeded Sutherlin. Cascade Christian and Sutherlin tied for the regular season league title but the Bulldogs gained the tiebreaker for a bye in Saturday’s opening round.

“It was a barnburner,” said Challengers head coach Rob Kleker. “It was a good match. Ultimately they just ended up making plays at the end.”

The top two teams from each league automatically advance to the state playoffs, and then the next four highest-ranked team in the state’s power rankings. The Challengers (13-7) entered the match with a No. 6 power ranking, with South Umpqua (17-6) fifth so they stand to receive an at-large bid.

“It puts us at the mercy of the ranking system,” said Kleker. “We don’t get one of the two guaranteed spots for our league so now we just have to hold on and see.”

Juniors Hannah Stanfield and Janie Kenaston led the charge for the Challengers, with each posting 13 kills. Kenaston had five aces and Stanfield added four.

Senior Olivia Borg contributed 12 kills and five aces, while junior Taylor Cave had 42 assists.

Cascade Christian opened the pivotal fifth set with four straight points and led 8-5 around the midway point but a few unforced errors allowed South Umpqua to crawl back into the match and eventually seize control.

THURSTON 3, ASHLAND 1: At Springfield, Ashland had a prime opportunity to climb the Midwestern League standings but Thurston fended off the Grizzlies for a 25-14, 25-18, 18-25, 25-11 victory in the regular season finale.

Ashland still qualified for the state playoffs with a 15-7 overall and 12-4 league record, which placed the Grizzlies fourth in the MWL.

With one league match still to play, third-place Thurston improved to 14-6 and 12-3 in MWL play.

WILLAMETTE 3, EAGLE POINT 1: At Eagle Point, Eagle Point missed its final chance to score a Midwestern League victory when Willamette rebounded from a first-set loss to win 19-25, 25-20, 25-19, 25-23.

The Eagles finished their season 1-19 overall and 0-16 in MWL play.

Willamette improved to 4-13 and 4-11 in league.