Indians go down fighting, and Coach Mark Sprenger is likely to return next season

by: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - Tribe senior Abby Kessi lets loose to celebrate a point in the third set of the Indians' playoff loss at Estacada. The game was bittersweet for Kessi and her teammates, who had as good a game as they've played, according to head coach Mark Sprenger.It might not have been the result he was looking for, but Tribe volleyball coach Mark Sprenger was still able to walk back onto the court from the locker room with a smile on his face.

“I think it being playoffs and coming in on the road, we played about as well as we play,” he said.

Scappoose, who won three of their final four matches to lock up their second consecutive playoff berth, saw their season finally come to an end in Estacada on Tuesday night. The Rangers started strong, dominating the beginning of the first set and eventually won the match 25-16, 25-19, 20-25, 25-20, punching their ticket to the round of 16 on Saturday.

It was an emotional loss for the Indians, and a roller coaster ride for the visiting fans. The road team came out flat in the opening game, and the Rangers jumped on every mistake. A lightning-quick 8-1 run had the home team leading by 12 points, and a few moments later, Estacada had the Indians on the brink, leading 23-9.

The fight wasn’t close to over. With their backs against the wall, Scappoose finally picked up consecutive points in the first set, and began to eliminate the mistakes that crippled the team early on. With senior Hannah Carrey back to serve, the Indians found some traction on offense, and a tip from senior Abby Kessi pulled Scappoose to within 23-16. Estacada responded to score the final two points of the set, but with the early rust shaken off, the Tribe was back in it.

The second set was a little closer, and in the third set, the Indians finally broke through. Scappoose scored four points before Estacada even got on the board and led 15-8 before the Rangers could respond. Scappoose was able to hold off a pair of rallies and win the third set, avoiding a sweep and keeping their playoff run alive.

The final game started off ugly, but once again, Scappoose didn’t throw in the towel. They rallied to catch Estacada at five points, and cut the lead to two at 17-15 behind a number relentless blocks from Kessi, but it wasn’t enough. With Scappoose trailing 24-19, the Rangers were able to return a serve and the ball was too hot for the Indians to handle, bouncing back into the net and bringing the home crowd to its feet as Estacada celebrated on their side the court.

The Scappoose girls silently gathered their things and walked as a somber bunch into the visiting locker room. A few quiet moments later, it was a tear-stained but positive group that emerged.

“I just told them how proud I was of them,” said Sprenger. “We’ve got six seniors, and it’s an emotional thing when you play your final volleyball match.”

Sprenger’s comments resonated with the rest of the team as well, who huddled with the group of traveling parents to laugh, cry and begin the reminiscence of their senior season.

“It’s bittersweet because it’s the end,” said Kessi. “(In the locker room) it was quiet, and we had a huddle. There’s no words to express... how much we love playing with each other.”

Even though the Indians lost the match, Kessi was happy with the effort and said she thoroughly enjoyed the journey.

“I would consider it (ending on) a high note because we really gave it everything and we had fun doing it. I think that’s what it comes down to,” she said.

Sprenger, who rarely highlights an individual’s achievements, thought Kessi had a strong performance. It was a tough challenge for the team’s tallest member, who was matched up against a starting lineup taller than any player on the Scappoose squad.

“I knew they had a big middle (blocker) and I thought she did a good job of shutting their middle down,” he said. “I don’t know how many blocks she ended up with, but if not a block she got a lot of touches. I can only think of one missed serve... I think all around she might have had one of her better nights.”

Kessi, though, wouldn’t hear a word of it.

“It’s such a team game,” she said. “I don’t ever feel individual ‘Oh, good job for me,’ you know?”

The Indians’ second post-season trip in as many years was a positive experience for Sprenger, who returned to coach the Tribe on an interim basis two season ago. He came back this year because of the team’s success, and yet another playoff run might have Sprenger hooked.

“Usually I take some time off to reflect on the season,” said Sprenger. “I really had a good time, so I’d say the odds of me coming back are better than not.”

by: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - Head coach Mark Sprenger addresses his team during a time out in the fourth set. Although the Indians lost the match, Sprenger was proud of the effort and fight his team displayed, and is considering a return to coaching for next season.

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