Team Spotlight: Seniors Talk About The Team Lighting Sprague’s Torch

Inside the athletic hallway at Sprague High School, there is a collection of state championship placements, with each individual team accomplishment having their own trophy. In the assortment of those trophies, one that says 2018 Class 6A Volleyball State Runner-Up sits among them. That trophy is a reminder of the magic, accomplishment, and memories of the 2018 Olys season.

Last year was a magical one for Sprague Volleyball, who reached their first ever state championship game, eventually falling to volleyball powerhouse Jesuit in the finals. Almost a full year later, the Olys are on track to repeat that accomplishment again, with a third straight conference championship wrapped up on Thursday against Bend. On a team of seven seniors, four of them talked with me about Sprague Volleyball, the 2018 season, this season, and their favorite moments as Olys. Here are the stories I heard from Bridgette Smith, Reese Sherwood, Madi Chuhlantseff, and Olivia Denning.

Sprague Volleyball In 2019

Every team differs from year to year, even the powerhouses like 3A’s Santiam Christian, 6A’s Jesuit and Central Catholic, and others. For Sprague, they lost seven seniors a year ago, including star outside hitter Morgan Doll, effectively starting a two year period of losing 14 seniors in two seasons. For Coach Anne Olsen, the challenge is to repeat the success of last season without seven players who helped her team make it there, and so far things have worked out in their favor. With only losses to Jesuit, Central Catholic, Bend, Summit, and Canby the Olys clinched a share of Mountain Valley Conference alongside Summit, positioning the first major part of an ultimate road map leading back to the state title game. Here’s is what Bridgette Smith and Madi Chuhlantseff had to say about the year so far…

Madi Chuhlantseff: “The transition for me from West Salem has been really smooth and super easy. There have been some hard times, not necessarily in terms of fitting in, but more in adapting to the new environment. I’m very happy that I made the decision to make the transfer, not just for the athletics here, but for the academics. I love my teachers, I love my classes, and it was a great decision for my future. We lost to Bend the first time, and I think that was a low for us, and ever since we’ve been riding on this roller coaster up and down. We’ve been fighting to come back from that loss ever since, and things have been good for us.”

Bridgette Smith: “This year has been a step up for me as a player because Anne has really leaned to me as being the team captain, last year it was Morgan (Doll). They rely on me a lot, but I also rely on them, and I really like being a leader for this team. Players that weren’t here last year really had to step it up this season and they have, and while we are a bit of a roller coaster, we’re definitely finding our way.”

Reflecting On Last Season

Although its a year past, the memories of last year are still fresh in the minds of Reese Sherwood, Olivia Denning, and Bridgette Smith (Chuhlantseff is a West Salem transfer), including their thrilling playoff win over Central Catholic in a three hour battle to five sets in the state quarterfinals. These girls were excited to discuss last season, what it meant to them, and reflect on it as a whole…

Reese Sherwood: “We reached further than any team from Salem had before, so to be part of this team, the culture, and be with these girls was just really great. It was amazing to make it that far for our school and our community. In the game against Central Catholic were all out, and all of us girls knew that we needed to put in our hardest, especially our seven seniors last year who really wanted that because they hadn’t done it before. It also felt great to shatter the persona of the Portland schools by showing that teams from Salem can compete too.”

Bridgette Smith: “It was amazing! We were these underdogs, looked at as just some team from Salem, and no team from Salem had ever made it that far in the tournament. We played with some much passion and I think it was our will to drive.”

Olivia Denning: “One thing that Anne does a lot is she gives us the confidence that we need, but we just need to buy into it. I think last year we didn’t really buy into it until after we went to the Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona. I remember before one game I was watching the other team warm up and I told my dad that the game was going to be a shutout, I mean these girls were like Jesuit times two. We were really intimidating going into it, but we actually ended up hanging in there with them, and that’s when it really clicked that we can do this thing that Anne has told us we could do.”

Sprague’s Team Culture

Anyone who has ever watched this talented group of girls knows how well they communicate, how much passion they bring, and can tell that chemistry is strong with the team. This is true both on and off the court for the Olys, who share a strong bond that you would expect to see from a family. Sprague is a family in athletics and community, with Anne Olsen’s program being no exception to that classification. My four senior interviewees gave insight to an outsider on the strong culture that drives the Sprague Volleyball program…

Olivia Denning: “All of us have such a friendship with each other that I could go off and spend a day with any one of these girls and be completely fine. That’s so important because we’ve been so close and have been through so much together. When we lost to Summit, we ended up staying in Bend for the weekend, and that was cool for us to stay together as a team and really get some bonding. A lot of us have played with each other since we were young, so to us its like second hand nature now.”

Bridgette Smith: “Its definitely a family, we’re always finding time to hang out. Last week, we had pizza at Hannah’s (Blubaugh) and we hung for like three hours just playing games, we spent the weekend over in Bend, and we’re always going out to lunch its just so awesome for us to be part of this family.”

Madi Chuhlantseff: “One of the reasons I transferred here was for the family atmosphere, and it really drew me to here. Its completely true when we’re on the court playing together, its all about everyone and we’re all included on the team, its such a great vibe. Anne is a huge part of that because she makes it feel like a family, we look at her as a Mom, we even call her Mom and what you see on the court is completely real off the court.”

Reese Sherwood: “We’ve have such a fun time, whether it be on the court, off the court, on the bus rides, and everything. We make so much of the time that we get together, and Anne really helps with developing that chemistry, especially in practice when she’s playing with us and usually beating us along with our assistant coach Lindsey (Dorsey) who is a big part of that too. They have really helped us grow as a team, but some of it goes with growing up together, playing club ball, and its just carried on.”

Favorite Memories As Sprague Olympians

Every player dreams of making memories in their high school careers, but they often receive more than they bargained or asked for. Bridgette Smith, Reese Sherwood, Olivia Denning, and Madi Chuhlantseff can attest to that fact, mentioning numerous stories and memories in my conversations with them, but they were all able to find the one memory they love the most out of them all, sharing it with me behind the looks of passion and emotion….

Reese Sherwood: “Being part of the volleyball program and such a winning culture is really important, not a lot of girls get that opportunity to watch that when we’re younger. Just seeing how the teams have progressed over the years is just really cool and I can’t describe how that feels.”

Madi Chuhlantseff: “Its for sure with volleyball, our team bonding is just so interesting. We were at the ropes course here in Salem and it was super fun, we look back and its funny but also super tragic that some of the girls didn’t get a good experience from it, but we all look back at it and laugh about it. That was my favorite from the season.”

Bridgette Smith: “It sounds kind of cliché, but the game against Central Catholic was it. Getting that last point, that last rally was like a minute and 30 seconds long, I got setup like 12 times and just sitting down knowing you accomplished that after a three hour long match and having the entire community backing you up was definitely my best memory as an Oly.”

Olivia Denning: “In the last four years here and 17 years of my life, its definitely got to be that Central Catholic match. It was just so crazy and honestly so inspiring. Last year, we were the dark horse and that felt special to us, then knowing we could comeback being down 9-14 to win is definitely something that will stick with us for forever.”

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