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PREP VOLLEYBALL: Central Catholic ready for 6A run

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Central Catholic junior Vicky Gadja gets set to launch a serve.Central Catholic, which hasn't lost to an Oregon Class 6A team this year, goes into this weekend's state tournament ranked No. 1.

But coach Rick Lorenz says the matter of winning another title will be settled Friday and Saturday at Liberty High, not based on results in September or October.

"Looks to be a case of which team is playing at their peak," Lorenz says.

That could be the Rams.

"We're healthy now and at full strength," Lorenz says.

A key for Central Catholic is the return of its No. 1 middle blocker, senior co-captain Natalie Batiste. She is back, and has played the past two matches, after missing three weeks with a bruised Achilles tendon.

The Rams have depth as well as quality, all important factors given that their only other senior is setter Camille Foster.

Foster and junior Kealia Rosa, also co-captains, "have done a good job of keeping the girls focused these last two weeks."

The Rams won three consecutive state titles before coming up short last year and losing to Clackamas in the third-place match.

Central Catholic's only defeats of 2013 have come against Bellarmine Prep of Washington Sept. 21 in the Kent Classic and to 5A power West Albany Sept. 28 in the South Albany state preview tourney.

The Rams roared through Mt. Hood Conference play, going 12-0 with a 69-11 record in sets, and then swept South Medford and Barlow last Wednesday and Saturday in playoff matches en route the eight-team state tournament.

Central Catholic will open the tourney with an 8 a.m. Friday quarterfinal match against Sheldon, which is No. 9 in the Oregon School Activities Association rankings.

If the Rams win, they could meet No. 4-ranked Jesuit in the 6:30 p.m. Friday semifinals, if the Crusaders get past No. 5 Sprague in the other 8 a.m. Friday quarterfinal.

"I look for some close matches down the stretch," Lorenz says. "A key will be some consistent net play -- keeping your hitting and blocking errors to a minimum."

The bottom half of the bracket has West Linn vs. Roseburg and Clackamas vs. Lakeridge in the 10 a.m. quarterfinals, the latter match between Three Rivers League co-champions.

"We've played everyone in the final eight except Roseburg," Lorenz says, "but we've seen them play, so there are very few secrets out there for us.

"We need to play our game as best we can."