Prairie volleyball refuses to lose again

Falcons rally from two games down to win volleyball title

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

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The Prairie volleyball fans had to be thinking, “Oh no. Not again.”

The Prairie athletes had another thought.

“No. It’s not happening again. I refuse to let that happen again,” senior libero Katie Pagel said Tuesday night after the Class 3A district volleyball championship match at Columbia River High School.

It certainly looked like it was going to be another frustrating night for the Falcons. But then they turned the tables on Camas, rallying for a 22-25, 22-25, 25-22, 25-22, 16-14 victory.

Junior Karlee Lubenow took over the match at the net for the Falcons, recording 18 kills. Sophomore Kaylee Warren added seven kills, including kills for the final three points for her team in the deciding game.

Just like that, the Falcons could try to forget years of heartache against the Papermakers. This was the fourth consecutive season the two teams clashed for the district title. Camas had won the previous three.

In 2008 and 2009, Prairie had won the Class 3A Greater St. Helens League title only to fall to Camas in the postseason. This fall, the Falcons went undefeated to win another league title. But once again, they found Camas in the district championship match.

“Everybody knows what the history has been. You can’t pretend it’s not the case,” Prairie coach Andrea Doerfler said.

The past was staring down the Falcons like the Grim Reaper after those first two games.

“I think we thought that, too,” Camas coach Julie Nidick said. “That’s probably why we let down a little bit.”

The Falcons knew this was 2011. They could do something about this year, this match.

“When you’re down 0-2, that’s when you have to bring out the heart,” Lubenow said. “We all work so hard in the gym every day, we fight for it every day. We wanted it. We brought it. It was great.”

“We have a lot of depth on this team, a lot of heart,” Doerfler said. “Depth and heart, those two thing go a long way. Our girls just didn’t give up.”

Pagel had one of those game-changing saves in the third game, leading to a kill from Lubenow that gave the Falcons a 17-14 advantage. Pagel gave a fist pump and a scream that clearly was interpreted: Her team was not done yet.

“That’s just me. I’m extremely, extremely competitive and outwardly excited,” she said.

In the fourth game, Warren had two kills and Nikita DeMare had a block for the final three points of a match that was tied at 22.

Lubenow was dominant early in the final game, with five kills as Prairie took an 11-6 lead.

Also in the stretch, Pagel had a diving dig, then got up and had to dive for the ball for the third touch. She sent it over the net for a point.

Camas would bounce back, though.

Sydney Schwartz and Britteny Gilge went on kill sprees to put the Papermakers up 13-12.

A service error tied the game again, leading to Warren’s tip-kill for a 14-13 Prairie advantage. Camas got it to 14-all, before Warren went back-to-back kills for the match.

“It just feels amazing to be able to play with such great players and feel welcome,” the sophomore said. “I just wanted to win that for our team. I knew we deserved it. That was my mindset, to do my best and put the ball away.”

Brindl Langley led the Papermakers with 19 kills. She had seven in the second game, which saw Camas score the final six points of the match — with Abbie Younkin on the service line for the final five.

Gilge finished with 16 kills and Schwartz added seven kills and two blocks for the Papermakers.

Camas defeated Hudson’s Bay in semifinals earlier in the evening in three games: 25-20, 25-17, 25-16. All three teams, along with Columbia River, advanced to the bi-district tournament Friday and Saturday with a chance to earn a trip to the state tournament.

For the first time in years, Prairie is going to bi-district as the top seed from the GSHL.

“I can’t even express it,” Pagel said. “It means so much to us. For all of us, but especially for us seniors. We have been a part of the disappointment.”

Not this season, though.

The Falcons believed, even when history told them otherwise.