By René Ferrán
For just a second, Olivia Maulding let slip the significance of the moment.
The La Salle Prep volleyball program had just knocked off Wilsonville on Tuesday night in four sets in both teams’ Northwest Oregon Conference opener, dominating the final two sets en route to a 26-24, 30-32, 25-13, 25-18 victory in its Brick Oven gym.
Falcons coach Anna Dillard had stressed coming into the match that “our season won’t be defined by how we do against Wilsonville,” as senior setter Mia McCaffrey explained, “and we really took that to heart.”
Maulding also toed the company line in attempting to play down the significance of defeating the No. 2-ranked Wildcats, their biggest NWOC rival in seemingly every girls sport.
But for just an instant, she cracked a smile.
“It’s pretty much always been a rivalry,” said the junior middle blocker, who had 13 kills, seven aces and four blocks. “As our coach says, you can’t really play an opponent; you have to play the ball. But yeah, playing Wilsonville, beating Wilsonville tonight, was fantastic. It made me really happy.”
The Wildcats and Falcons have ruled the NWOC since 2018, when Sandy moved up to Class 6A. Their only losses in NWOC play have been to each other, with Wilsonville owning a 5-2 edge and winning titles in 2018 and 2019 — reaching the Class 5A state final in the latter year.
The Falcons, ranked No. 4 in the preseason, handed Wilsonville its first NWOC defeat in three seasons during the COVID-shortened spring campaign, but this victory has added meaning because it gives them a leg up in the race for the conference title.
But Dillard’s point was simple — the Falcons have high expectations for this season, and they don’t want to peak with an early-September home win in their conference opener.
“What we’re trying to do is not just be defined by the opponent we’re playing,” Dillard said. “We have a ton of respect for Wilsonville. They’re a really good team, and we know that when we’re tested against them, we’re earning something — like, we had to earn every single point that we won tonight.
“So, I hope this will build our confidence, but it doesn’t change the fact that Thursday, we play Parkrose, and we have to put this behind us and move forward to focus on that match.”
The Wildcats played Tuesday’s match without one of their big guns, senior outside hitter Ashli Edmiston, who sat out with a sprained ankle. They shuffled their lineup, moving senior middle Tatum Lubisich outside and bringing up sophomore Olivia Lyons from the JV to fill in.
“It was a factor, but I think a lot of guys stepped up,” said junior Makenna Wiepert, who had 17 kills, 14 assists and three blocks. “Obviously, we’re looking forward to having Ashli back, but everyone did a really good job stepping into new positions and playing really well.”
Edmiston should be ready in plenty of time for the rematch three weeks from now in Wilsonville.
“I want to see how we do when Ashley is back,” Maulding said. “She’s such a powerhouse for them, but I feel like we really came out and terminated tonight. I think we can come out and have the same outcome.”
For two sets, the Wildcats kept pace with the Falcons, bouncing back from a first-set loss to win a back-and-forth second. La Salle Prep staved off five match points and Wilsonville erased two before finally evening the match.
But as the match wore on, the Falcons pressed their advantage in the middle with Maulding and sophomore Haley Heytvelt, who had a match-high 18 kills and three blocks. They closed the third set on a 13-2 run and erased a 13-11 deficit in the fourth, sparked by a six-point serving run by junior Ellie Sandholm that included three aces.
“We knew what we had to do, and in that second set, we just weren’t executing it,” McCaffrey said. “We needed to run the middle. We passed the ball really well in those last two sets, and our blocking was really good, especially our middles. They were getting to where they needed to be.”
In the huddle between sets, Maulding said the team “really just came together and focused in. We knew we could do so much better. That really showed in that third set. We came together as a team. We played as one instead of six.”
As the momentum turned, Wiepert felt the team lost the energy it played with the first two sets.
“Volleyball is such a mental game, and it’s really important that you have high energy every single time, whether you’re down 20 or up 20,” she said. “I think that’s something that we can take away from this match, that we have to carry our energy more, even when we get down by one or two points.”
La Salle Prep 3, Wilsonville 1
La Salle Prep d. Wilsonville 26-24, 30-32, 25-13, 25-18
Wilsonville leaders — Makenna Wiepert 17 kills, 3 blocks, 14 assists; Tatum Lubisich 7 kills; Sydney Bowen 6 kills, 3 blocks, 3 aces; Kaylee Dresser 5 kills, 5 blocks; Cammy Gore 17 assists. La Salle Prep leaders — Haley Heytvelt 18 kills, 3 blocks; Olivia Maulding 13 kills, 7 aces, 4 blocks; Mia McCaffrey 35 assists, 2 blocks; Ellie Sandholm 5 aces; Audrey Hibler 4 kills, 2 aces.