Gaston — The two best in the Northwest League clashed for their second round Tuesday night, with both looking to seize momentum for the home stretch of conference play over the next month. The Gaston Greyhounds entered with a two game lead over the Loggers in conference, as Vernonia has struggled to find their footing after a COVID pause walled their momentum gained from the East vs West Showdown at Heppner in early September. Gaston entered undefeated on the season, rolling just about everyone except for Vernonia, who took them to five sets in their first meeting this season.
The Greyhounds came out hot, breaking out their studded 6’3″ middle Mackenzie Berger early and often. After taking a firm lead on Vernonia, the Loggers would call timeout and that helped them find small bits of momentum. However, Vernonia found themselves spinning their wheels with fundamental errors and unforced errors, resulting in Gaston taking the opening set 25-20 after a late run to make things interesting at the end. A carbon copy of the opening set defined the second set, this time just with the teams flipped around in the roles. Vernonia came out hot early, knocking back the Greyhounds and finding themselves in their own hole. The Loggers looked to cruise to a second set victory, but Gaston got hot at the end and made things interesting, with Vernonia ultimately closing them out 25-21 to knot it up at 1-1.
Carrying momentum from their last set win, Vernonia kept up the heat on Gaston, jumping up to another huge set lead. Their outside and middle were completely in sync, shutting down the Greyhounds offensively and pounding them with kills all over the place. Additionally, Gaston’s inconsistent receives also resulted in a boatload of aces for the Loggers, giving them all the momentum after cruising 25-15 in the third set and taking a 2-1 lead. Gaston refused to go down that handily, punching Vernonia in the mouth to open the fourth set, taking a firm lead and never looking back. Berger found her groove again with her outside hitters Ally Lazott and Maya Rosenberg, with Gaston forcing a decisive fifth set with a 25-18 set dub.
In the decisive moment, Vernonia caught fire early behind Nita Cook and their middles Kaylee Whiteman and Audrey Hill. Gaston would force mistakes and take the lead back, then Vernonia lead, Gaston, Vernonia, just back and forth momentum. Eventually, Gaston got some breaks and took the lead 14-10, closing it out in five sets with a 15-12 final set victory over Vernonia to stay undefeated in 2021. For the Loggers, it was hope that fell just short again to take down the Greyhounds.
Gaston: They got the dub and stay undefeated, but I left completely unimpressed by the Greyhounds. They have talent no doubt, but for being the second ranked team in the state, I had much higher expectations on what to observe. Their receiving was inconsistent, communication was shaky, many unforced errors that cost them throughout the match. They just showed a general inability to recover in set after being punched by the opponent, which will be an Achilles heel in the playoffs. Kudos to them for the perseverance to close out the victory despite their shortcomings, but there’s much to work on and tweak before the playoffs. Talent is there, but can they iron out the wrinkles before they get the playoff test?
Vernonia: Ohh so close Loggers! I’ll admit, I thought they had it after the third set, but Gaston proved otherwise. Vernonia showed flashes of potential that I saw in them at Heppner in early September, but they also showed weaknesses that weren’t that apparent over there. Communication was a big hurdle, many plays fell short to easy opponent points because of no talking on the floor. They fought hard and deserve much praise for that, but also much needs to be improved on. The Loggers will be around in the playoffs, but how far they will get is up to them ultimately.