Salem — This was one of the best games I’ve ever seen, certainly one that will not be forgotten anytime soon. The Horizon Christian Hawks went down to fellow Christian school Salem Academy for the annual Crusader Classic, which featured 3A competition with the likes of Scio, Creswell, Yamhill-Carlton, and others. The Hawks had gone through Westside Christian and Scio to reach the finals, while host Salem Academy took down St. Mary’s Medford and Yamhill-Carlton to face Horizon Christian. Earlier in the tournament, Horizon Christian lost senior captain Reagan Anderson to a major injury, a blow to the team as Reagan is an indispensable piece to the Hawks roster.
The opening set was off to a tight start, as the Crusaders and Hawks battled back and forth to an 8-all score early on. Salem Academy would catch some momentum and go on a 4-0 run to take a 12-8 lead in the opening set, forcing a Horizon Christian timeout. Despite their best efforts, the Hawks couldn’t completely close the gap on Salem Academy as they could only get within three points, and Salem Academy eventually finished off the set 25-19 to take a 1-0 match lead in the best of three championship pairing. Horizon Christian got off to a better start in the second set, taking an early 5-3 advantage before the Crusaders knotted it up at five apiece.
Unlike the opening set, the Hawks came back to take the lead again at the 10-7 and 15-12 marks of the set, holding steady against the Crusaders until Salem Academy went on a 5-0 run to take the lead 17-15. Horizon Christian fought back and retook the lead 20-18 and forced a Crusaders timeout in the second set. After forcing set point with a 24-20 lead, Horizon Christian hung on as Salem Academy stormed back to tie it up at 24 each, eventually grinding to win the second set 27-25 and forcing a winner-take-all final set.
In the race to 15 points, Salem Academy took a 3-0 lead before Horizon Christian fought back to take a 5-4 lead. The teams wouldn’t gain an advantage of more than a lone point again until the Hawks did so with a 12-10 lead, eventually setting up match point with a 14-12 advantage. An unforced error and a block from Kacyn Hiley knotted up the game for the Crusaders at 14-all, but an Emilie Miller block gave the Hawks match point again leading 15-14. Another unforced error tied up things again, just for Ellie McDonald to land a tight kill in the back left corner of the court to setup another match point.
Yet again with another match point, an unforced error on a close call knotted the game up once again at 16-all. For the final time though, Horizon Christian would obtain match point on a kill from Ava Mreen, with Sammie McDonald finishing off the match with a dump off in the middle of the court, triggering a bench mob to consume Sammie and a breakthrough moment for Horizon Christian. Once the screams blared, tears flowed, and some paparazzi snapped photos, they got on Facetime with their wounded teammate Reagan Anderson, letting out an ecstatic scream to let her know that they had conquered the host Crusaders to win the Crusader Classic.
In what became the most competitive classification for volleyball seemingly overnight, Horizon Christian had found themselves squeezed from newcomers Valley Catholic and Sisters, but they proved to themselves on Saturday that they certainly have the capability to compete with anyone. On a day when they lost a key piece and team captain, the Hawks rose to the occasion and persevered both on and off the court, ultimately bringing home the Crusader Classic Championship in one of the hardest of circumstances. If it is a testament to this program and team of girls, it is that they are full of heart and can accomplish anything that they put their minds to do, even inside the most competitive volleyball classification in the state.