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News / Sports / Prep Sports

Tim Martinez: Prairie volleyball focused on team growth

By Tim Martinez, Columbian Assistant Sports Editor
Published: October 10, 2023, 6:15pm

The Prairie volleyball team played its best match of the season last week against Camas, head coach Jen Palmer said.

And the fact that the Falcons lost in five sets didn’t really matter to Palmer.

“I would take that team, even when we lost in the fifth set, but I would take them every single day because they had so much heart,” Palmer said Monday. “And it all just came together — the chemistry, the unity, the determination and heart. It was just all there.”

That loss gave the Falcons confidence going into a key 3A Greater St. Helens League match Monday against Kelso.

10 Photos
Prairie senior Ali Millspaugh (3) stands with her teammates during a Pink Night volleyball match against Kelso at Prairie High School on Oct. 9, 2023.
Prairie Kelso volleyball Photo Gallery

Then the Falcons acted on that confidence to roll to a 25-17, 25-17, 25-12 victory that left Prairie atop the league standings at 4-0.

“We felt really confident going into the night,” Palmer said. “Even knowing that Kelso is our biggest league competitor and always has a great program, we just felt like we were ready.”

Prairie and Kelso were both 3A state tournament teams last year, but both teams lost key players off last year’s roster.

“We had a solid group last year,” Palmer said. “We had a lot of success. We miss the four seniors we had to say bye to last year, but we thankfully had people that were coming into the positions that needed to be filled. They were ready to go.”

One of those newcomers is Ali Millspaugh, a 5-foot-11 senior transfer from Mark Morris. Millspaugh led Prairie with 11 kills in the win over Kelso.

Another new arrival is 5-11 freshman Gracie Jacoby, who added nine kills and 17 assists against Kelso.

And it has not taken long for those players to bond with their new teammates. Millspaugh credits the work of other seniors like Diamond Doutrive and Eme Cecil in that process.

“I think us seniors, and really all the girls in general, have made a big impact,” Millspaugh said “We have underclassmen who have made a huge impact. We have a freshman who has made a really big impact. And I think us being leaders, setting a good example, has helped build the chemistry.”

Still, the Falcons are relatively young with a roster that includes four sophomores and one freshman. So the growth has taken some time.

“I think this team has learned how to self-regulate,” Palmer said. “In the beginning of the season, we were on a little bit of a rollercoaster. We didn’t really focus on bettering our own play and focusing on improving on our side. We focused a little bit too much about what the other side was doing. And we would sometimes play down.”

It was a tendency the Falcons got away from during a win over Evergreen on Sept. 28, Palmer said. Then it really showed against Camas last week.

“We learned a lot,” Millspaugh said about playing Camas. “We learned never to give up. Even though we lost the first set — not too bad but still kind of bad — we didn’t give up. We pushed through. We never lost by huge numbers. And I think what we learned is just grow and don’t give up.”

Prairie carried that lesson right into Monday’s matchup against Kelso, building quick early leads in all three sets.

“Communication was working,” Millspaugh said. “And I think moving the ball was working. Our hitters were connecting really well with our setter. And we were picking up (tipped balls). Just, all-around it was a really good match.”

Now, the Falcons just need to keep that focus on growth going in the second half of league play and beyond.

“I think the biggest thing we need to focus on is not to dip, not to go down,” Millspaugh said. “Peaking right now is not good. We need to peak at districts, at state. I just think we need to not let up and keep getting better and better.”

Tim Martinez is the assistant sports editor/prep coordinator for The Columbian. He can be reached at tim.martinez@columbian.com, 360-735-4538, or follow @360TMart on Instagram or X (Twitter).

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