Redmond — They dropped their first two games of the season to 3A Catlin Gabel and Horizon Christian, but entered the 2A state championship on Saturday night riding a 26 game winning streak. The Salem Academy Crusaders came to Redmond as the heavy favorite, with Gaston coming in looking to pull an upset and make a statement to the Crusaders and 2A. The Greyhounds came in at 22-1 overall, with a lone loss coming in the Northwest League Championship against Vernonia, but had just pulled a comeback win over Monroe on Friday night to get them hyped for the 2A championship match.
Mackenzie Berger kicked off the game with back to back kills, sending Gaston to an early 2-0 lead. The Salem Academy wouldn’t be silent for long, closing the gap and taking an 8-7 lead on the Greyhounds. The Crusaders would make it 11-7 in the opening set, then blow open an 18-8 lead anchored by Aubrey Smith’s four kills. Salem Academy would close out the first set 25-13, sending a strong statement that would control the script of the 2A state championship. Gaston took a 3-2 lead in the second set, but a 4-0 run made it a 6-3 Crusaders lead. Gaston would hang around though, trading punches with the Crusaders and eventually taking the lead back 16-15 late in the second set.
Out of a timeout, Salem Academy got four straight on Gaston errors and a 19-16 lead. The Crusaders would close out on a 6-2 run, finishing it off with back to back kills by Freshman Lexi Herber 25-18 and finding themselves one set away from their first title in 26 years. Gaston would once again take an early set lead 2-0, but Salem Academy went on a 7-0 run to retake the lead 7-2 in the third set. Gaston would break the run on a Lexi Fern kill, but Aly Herber’s three consecutive kills made it 10-3 and eventually a 13-3 advantage. Trailing 17-6, Gaston would fight back to close the gap down to 19-12. Despite their best efforts, the Greyhounds couldn’t stop the inevitable result, which proved to be a Salem Academy sweep and 2A title, their first since 1995 obtained via a Bailey Pedersen kill. Aly Herber led the day for the Crusaders, finishing with 14 kills, Aubrey Smith had 12 kills, Kacyn Hiley had three blocks. For Gaston, Makenzie Berger finished with 14 kills, an ace, and two blocks.
Losing their four seniors Aubrey Smith, Bailey Pedersen, Annabelle Brawley, and Dylainee Carmony will be a challenge for the Crusaders in their title defense, but they get to return a youthful roster led by Aly Herber. Additionally, they have a crop of freshman coming who rolled in middle school play this fall, adding to the optimism for the future of the Crusaders. It likely won’t be as smooth as this season, but there’s no reason to believe they shouldn’t be a heavy favorite again in 2022.
Gaston did what they could do, but simply couldn’t match the Crusaders. Next season looks to be interesting, as they lose their 6’3″ middle Mackenzie Berger and Grace Smith. They return plenty of experience, but it remains to be questioned whether they’ll return to state in 2022. They’ll definitely be playoff bound, but how far they’ll go is simply too muddy to answer right now.