WARRENTON - Getting to the state playoffs is no longer a problem for the Warrenton volleyball program. They've been there before, and they're going again.
It's advancing past the first round that always gets the Warriors.
Three straight state playoff appearances over the last three years have resulted in three straight first round losses. But the Warriors are back to give it another try, as they punched their ticket to state with a three-game sweep over Neah-Kah-Nie Wednesday at Warrenton, 25-19, 27-25, 25-18.
With the victory, Warrenton secured the Lewis & Clark League's No. 3 seed to the state playoffs.
Now the Warriors can focus on picking up that elusive post-season win. Unfortunately, they'll have to do it against another No. 1 seed, as Warrenton will play Saturday (time to be determined) at the ultimate No. 1 seed, top-ranked Santiam Christian.
"We tried not to get the three seed, but it didn't work too well," said Warrenton coach Jim Hackwith, whose team will open state playoff competition against a team that has a 30-2-1 record overall this year, including tournament matches. "We'll take it, though. We'll go after them and do what we can."
In 2006, the Warriors lost in three games in a state playoff match at Burns.
In 2007, Warrenton lost at Creswell in four. And last year at home, the Warriors lost to Valley Catholic, also in four games.
"This is the fourth year in a row that we've been to the state playoffs, so I'm satisfied with what we're doing - I just have to get us one step farther," Hackwith said. "We really had our chance last year with Valley Catholic. We just didn't finish it off.
"I'd like to get to that final eight some day," he added. "I'm not sure if this is the time, but we'll do what we can."
The winner of Saturday's playoff will advance to the state tournament, Nov. 13-14 at Lane Community College in Eugene.
The Pirates held early leads in every game and stayed right with the Warriors for most of the night, but Warrenton would put together a run late in each game to pull away.
"We let them come back on us, but that's kind of our way of doing things," Hackwith said. "They're a scrappy, good team. We're just a little stronger in hitting. They're not quite as strong as we are."
And even then, Hackwith said, "we didn't have a super night hitting, but we were consistent at the net. Our setters were doing a good job of getting the ball close so we could do something with it."
A big serving run by Maddy Smotherman helped the Warriors pull away in Game 1, as the sophomore served four straight points for a 23-17 lead.
Earlier in the game, Payton Hummell had back-to-back kills to help Warrenton grab an 18-13 advantage.
A kill and a block by Neah-Kah-Nie's Alexis Anderson had the Pirates in front, 18-17 in Game 2.
Hackwith called a timeout, and the Warriors promptly went on a 6-0 run, highlighted by a stuff block from Smotherman and a service ace by Brooklyn Campbell.
Neah-Kah-Nie fought back to force a 24-24 tie, before the Warriors closed it out with a block by Angel Legler and a kill by Hummell that ended a long rally at game point.
The Pirates were unable to hold a 5-1 lead in the third game, as Warrenton rallied with the help of several Neah-Kah-Nie hitting errors.
Smotherman set Legler for a kill, Chelsea Smotherman added a service ace, and Campbell had a kill off the block for a 19-16 advantage.
Maddy Smotherman's tap over the net at match point fell untouched to give Warrenton the win.
"I think the main thing tonight was working as a team," Hackwith said. "We got the team stuff going - pass, set, hit - we got after it every time. Controlling the ball game - that was a big thing for us."
Legler had a big night statistically for Warrenton, with three kills on 14-of-16 hitting, and 14-of-14 at the service line. Chelsea Smotherman was 10-for-10 serving, while Campbell was 20-for-21 hitting with five kills.
Hummell also had five kills, Campbell was 22-for-36 passing, and Masie Watkins was 10-for-16.