Rarely does a Rainier team get schooled on the volleyball court, but the Astoria Fishermen served up one tough lesson for the Columbians Wednesday night at the Brick House.
Ultimately, Rainier's string of victories over Astoria - which goes back to 1995 - would remain intact as the Columbians passed the test with a five-game win, 25-20, 14-25, 25-23, 19-25, 15-8.
"We'll take the win, but I'll be honest with you - that Astoria team was on fire," said Rainier coach Len Robison, whose team remains unbeaten in league play at 6-0. "They had great passing - their setter (Shyra Merila) did a great job of mixing it up and did a real good job of dragging the blockers away from the hitters."
Robison, who has coached with Astoria coach Angee Hunt in summer leagues, said, "I told her after the match that being a first-year coach is always tough, because you're trying to develop a personality with your team.
"Angee needs a lot of credit. They made some mistakes tonight, but they were doing a lot of things right. That tells me that Angee is really doing something that needs to be recognized."
The Fishermen met all their goals coming into the match - the only thing they didn't get was the win.
"I really tried to focus on the fact that we need to push this to a five-game match," Hunt said. "That was our goal from the beginning - to push it to five - and let the chips fall where they may after that.
"We met that goal, and I'm real proud of the girls," she said. "It's a huge step for us to get to that point, mentally. We played with confidence every single game, for five games, against a really tough team."
The Fishermen were on top of their game from the very start - and they were on top of the Columbians' game as well.
Astoria led 18-13 in Game 1 before Rainier rallied with a 12-2 run for the win; the second game wasn't even close as the Fishermen built leads of 18-5 and 24-8 before winning.
Merila set up kills for Shelby Cullen and Heidi Hanson, while Cullen and Hanson teamed up for big blocks on Rainier's Sarah Crawford.
KIM ERSKINE - The Daily Astorian
Astoria's Shelby Raichl (1) tips the ball back over the net at Wednesday night's game in Astoria.The Fishermen continued to play well in Game 3, leading 13-10 following a kill by Hanson and a block by Heather Arnold. But Rainier fought through nine ties and six lead changes and broke the final tie at 22-22 with tip kills from Trista Staehely and Stephanie Erdman, leading to a two-point win.
The Columbians' momentum didn't carry over, however. Astoria came back strong in Game 4, with two aces from Nicole McBride giving the Fishermen a quick 5-1 lead.
Shelby Raichl and Molly Roman also had ace serves, helping Astoria to a 15-9 advantage. Rainier rallied to within 17-14, but too many missed serves down the stretch evened the match at two games apiece.
The only game Rainier led from start to finish was Game 5. Erdman served the Columbians to a 4-0 lead before missing a serve. But that didn't throw the Columbians, who used a pair of stuff blocks by Crawford and a kill by Rachel White for a 9-1 advantage.
"I'll give the girls credit for not quitting, but our mental toughness was just not there," Robison said. "I didn't know what the personality of our team was tonight. All I can say was that it was like the stock market - it was not pretty."
Hunt, meanwhile, can be pleased with a solid effort from her team, despite the loss.
"We told the girls it would require a real team effort, and they came through," Hunt said. "We met all of our goals. It would have been nice to get the win, but I think just taking them to five was a big step for us. They played hard, so what more can you expect? I'm pleased with the effort."
Astoria will have some varsity players taking part in the Seaside Invitational Saturday before the Fishermen play at Tillamook Tuesday.
Tillamook defeats GullsSEASIDE - Seaside was within striking distance the whole night, but it was Tillamook that left town with a 25-15, 20-25, 25-23, 25-23 win over the Gulls Wednesday night in a Cowapa League volleyball match at Seaside.
"We just made too many hitting errors," said Seaside coach Jason Boyd. "Our serve receive was better, but our free ball passing was not good. We just made it harder on ourselves."
The Gulls (2-4 in league) battled back from a late deficit in Game 4, even taking a 23-22 lead before losing.
Seaside had 38 kills on 185 attacks, with 25 hitting errors. The Gulls connected on 79-of-87 serves, with 11 aces. They also had 93 digs, with four solo blocks and four assisted blocks. Tillamook improves to 5-1 in league, and hosts Astoria Thursday.
The Gulls host their annual Invitational Saturday, with some of the top volleyball powers in the state competing, including North Bend, Estacada, Marist, Valley Catholic, Sisters, Stayton and Siuslaw.