The Astoria Lady Fishermen have a tall task before them as they open play in the Class 4A state volleyball tournament Friday. Tall, but not impossible.
Astoria will face off against North Bend - the No. 1-ranked team in the state - at 6 p.m. on Court 2 at Lane Community College, where action begins Friday for both the 3A and 4A state tournaments.
On paper, the numbers favor North Bend in the opening-round match.
The Bulldogs are ranked No. 1 in the latest coaches poll, while Astoria did not make the top 10 in the season's final ranking; North Bend has racked up an impressive 29 victories this year (including tournament wins), to Astoria's 17 overall victories; and the Bulldogs have tournament wins over No. 3 Marist, No. 5 Sisters and No. 6 Yamhill-Carlton, with a state playoff victory over No. 7 Estacada.
But with all their state tournament inexperience, there's still a few things the Lady Fish have going for themselves - such as knocking off Yamhill-Carlton (the No. 2-ranked team in the state at the time) to tie for the league championship two weeks ago; and they also defeated No. 9 Newport Sept. 17 and beat Sisters two-games-to-none in the Seaside Invitational.
While the Lady Fish are fresh off a five-game victory over Central last week, North Bend is coming off a four-game win over Estacada (25-9, 22-25, 25-14, 25-21).
Both the Bulldogs and Fishermen will be making their first state tournament appearances since 2006, so both come up short in the "experience factor."
While North Bend took the state title that year, Astoria still has one link left to the team that placed sixth at the 2006 state tournament.
Astoria senior setter Kayce Lilley was a freshman in '06, and traveled with the team to Eugene.
"I dressed down, but I didn't get to play," Lilley said of her first state tournament experience. "I was nervous, but I didn't really expect to play, so I was just kind of having fun and enjoying the trip."
Once you get there, "it's kind of crazy, and a little overwhelming," she said. "There's a lot going on in the gym, but it's fun."
Astoria was coached by Angee Hunt in 2006, and Hunt is returning to the tournament as an assistant to Eric Gohr this year.
Lilley is hoping to provide her teammates with a little insight and advice when it comes to the state tournament - how to handle the pressure and not be intimidated by the playoff atmosphere ... and what elevators to avoid.
Lilley learned from former setter Rachel Gascoigne, and now Lilley hopes to pass on what she's learned to her younger teammates.
"I've always kind of looked up to Rachel as a setter," Lilley said. "She's great - it was fun watching her play. I hope I can be a good example and lead the team for the tournament.
"It will be a tough first match, but it will be fun either way," she said. "We always try to be confident in our abilities. We know that we've worked hard and we can do it."
Seniors Shelby Coggins and Jordan Thoreson were not with the varsity in 2006, and will be playing in their first - and last - state tournament.
"I think we're more of an excited-nervous," Thoreson said. "I feel like we're all pretty much playing our best. (The Bulldogs) will be our biggest challenge, but I think we can take 'em."
Meanwhile, both Lilley and Thoreson hope to continue their careers at the collegiate level next year. Lilley at possibly Willamette, Pacific Lutheran or Pacific, and Thoreson at Lower Columbia College.
Lilley, Thoreson and Kelsie Houghtaling were Astoria's three players named to the recent All-League squad, which was voted on by coaches Monday. Kat Gauthier was honorable mention.
Player of the Year was Yamhill-Carlton senior Sami Lee, while the three Coaches of the Year were Suzanne Alley of Banks, Astoria's Gohr, and Julie McGraw of Yamhill-Carlton.
Admission to the state tournament is $7 for adults and $4 for students for the quarterfinals and increases to $8 and $5 for the semifinals and finals. Tournament passes are $25 for adults and $14 for students.