Entering the Class 3A volleyball state championship against Valley Catholic on Saturday night, the Burns Hilanders hadn’t lost a match since Sept. 1, but the Valiants had other plans.
No. 5 Valley Catholic (22-6) cruised past the No. 6 Hilanders (30-4) in straight-set fashion (25-15, 25-19, 27-25), outlasting an intense third frame to claim their first 3A state title since going back-to-back in the 4A classification in 2018 and 2019.
“Not many things are better in the world than this,” Valley Catholic head coach Becky Kemper said. “It’s our third time and it never gets old — I’m pretty excited.”
Back in September, the Valiants were a piece of the Hilanders’ 28-game win streak, falling 0-2 at the annual Sisters tournament. On Saturday night, it was quite a different story, as Valley Catholic quickly led two sets to none and began dancing to Village People’s “YMCA” with a championship in their sights.
While Burns searched for an answer, Valley Catholic appeared unworried, staving off a 23-17 deficit in the third set to win 25-23. A kill from stud sophomore Willa Kayfes ended it, and the Valiants rejoiced.
“You feed off the energy from the crowd,” Kemper said. “It’s a long day to wait to play at 8:30, so we did a lot of things all day to get mentally prepared, and the minute we walked in the gym we had this energy and confidence that we knew we were going to take it.”
This energy quickly found its way into the first set, where the Valiants jumped out to a quick 11-6 lead, forcing an early Hilander timeout.
From there, Valley Catholic continued to step on the gas, rattling off five-straight points to make it 16-6. Burns briefly battled back, but set one ultimately went to the Valiants, 25-15.
The second set followed a similar narrative, with Valley Catholic jumping out to a 5-1 lead before Mackenzie King caught a rhythm while serving for Burns, evening the set at 11.
Moments later, a crowd-pleasing kill from Kayfes gave the Valiants a 15-12 lead, and although King recorded back-to-back aces later in the set, Valley Catholic held on 25-19, prompting the YMCA dance spurt.
“It doesn’t feel real,” Kayfes said. “We worked so hard for this moment, three months of doing this, and it just doesn’t feel like it’s real. We put in so much work.”
The stalwart sophomore’s fingerprints were all over the match, including the final set, where the Hilanders finally broke the Valiants’ stride behind more service excellence from King.
Five straight aces by the junior gave Burns a 22-16 third-set advantage, and although they trailed by two sets, the Hilanders weren’t done yet.
“We knew yesterday Burns, against Santiam Christian, lost the first two and came back,” Kemper said. “And when we were down 22-16, I was like ‘we have to go out there and still be aggressive, we can’t let up, they’re not going to give it to us, we have to go after it.’”
The Valiants didn’t let up, eventually scoring four straight points to seize a 25-24 lead. Then, service errors from both sides made it 26-25 Valley Catholic, and Kayfes’ team-leading 12th kill of the night ended the match in straight sets.
Junior setter Katiya Arellano added 31 assists and 10 digs for the Valiants, while senior libero Sophia Rewers tallied five aces, and senior outside hitter Abby Berndt contributed 11 kills.
For Burns, sophomore Akylah Kaino led the way with 12 kills, while King finished with nine aces and 10 digs.
“Like our coach said, just short-term memory, just remember what we learned,” Kayfes said. “We’ve done this in practice where the other team’s ahead and we have to try to get it back, and we’ve worked for this. It was really great.”