East vs West Showdown: Vernonia Is 2A’s Latest Contender, Grant Union’s Dark Horse Status, The Tigerscot Wild Card, Heppner’s Youthful Transition

Heppner — Four 2A schools got together to play one another in the East vs West Showdown on Saturday at Heppner High School: #8 Vernonia, #10 Grant Union, Weston-McEwen, and Heppner. Boasting at least two of the top teams in 2A, it was an opportunity to observe what our smaller divisions look like in a better scope.

Heppner is a team in a rebuild after shedding nine seniors from their 9-1 squad in the spring, and only returning two seniors and two juniors this fall. The Mustangs show potential in their young group, but the inexperience is going to be a large Achilles heel this season. Serena Humphreys is a constant outside presence with her height and execution, while Freshman Hallee Hisler is playing a size up per say, not having the height of a middle but certainly playing like one. In the East vs West Showdown, they jumped out to leads vs Vernonia but simply couldn’t hold them, eventually losing all three sets despite having solid momentum in the game. Their fundamental errors also hurt them, which contributed to them losing their momentum and overall struggles on the day. However, once they can nail down on their fundamentals and chemistry, Heppner definitely has a bright future with a good coach on the sideline. It’ll definitely not be this season, but the Mustangs are a team to watch for 2022 and beyond with their youth.

Vernonia was ranked #8 by the 2A coaches in the preseason poll, and it is clear where they drew that conclusion from. The Loggers are talented in the middle and on the outside, they have solid chemistry, and have the size to compete with some of Oregon’s best 2A teams. Freshman Kaydence Roberson showed her abilities and capability in the tournament, making herself a great fit with seniors Audrey Hill and Nita Cook on the outside. After a shaky, streaky opener against Heppner, the Loggers figured things out and took down Weston-McEwen and Grant Union. Their ability to adjust and recover from an off game shows the maturity and possibilities for this team. Those traits alone insert them into the 2A title conversation, but can they keep up that status?

Grant Union is the dark horse of 2A volleyball, period. Their studded senior class and talented youth put them in position to challenge 2A’s best in the state playoffs this season, along with their great coaching staff on the sideline. Sophomore Drewsey Williams has emerged as a key piece to the puzzle, as her size and ability to execute make her a handful for opponents to deal with. When combined in with senior studs Paige Gerry, Carson Weaver, and Grace Taylor, they make up one of the best front lines in the state. However, Saturday demonstrated that the Prospectors still have work to do, as they struggled to put the first two sets away vs Heppner and were beat 3-1 by Vernonia. If they can find consistency and if their high level playmaking ability continues, the Prospectors will be challenging to beat in the state playoffs.

The biggest wild card in the showdown belongs to Weston-McEwen, who entered as a bit of a mystery with what they would be capable of in 2021. They faced up against Grant Union and played solid, keeping up the Prospectors and putting pressure on them to execute or pay the price. Their height in the middle with Junior Genevieve Robinson and Freshman Delaynee Angell put their defense on solid standing against the taller teams in 2A, along with threats on the attack that can get over the top of most opponents. Their libero Jackie Albert helps make the offense go round and is great at digging the ball out of the middle of the court. Things fell apart for the Tigerscots against Vernonia, who were coming off a shaky opening match, but they eventually beat Heppner to salvage the day. The jury is still out on what expectations should be for Weston-McEwen, but they should start to take shape once conference play starts.

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