A strong and experienced Hood River Valley High Eagles volleyball team began its second season in five months last week with an optimistic outlook, hoping they can be one of the top contenders in the six-team Class 5A Intermountain Conference.

Following a COVID shortened 10-game spring schedule that concluded in April with a 4-6 record, the Lady Eagles returned to the hardwood floor with practice that started Aug. 16. This marks Hood River’s first traditional fall season since 2019. The 2020 season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the spring season wasn’t sanctioned by the OSAA.

HRV, guided by second-year Coach Courtney Harvey, opened the 2021 season on the road Sept. 1, losing a non-league contest 3-1 to the Gladstone Gladiators. HRV was hoping to bounce back and get its first win Tuesday in a non-league road contest versus the Columbia High Bruins in White Salmon (result was after the printed edition deadline).

“The girls did some really good things tonight, but we need a few more practices to get our offense working more productively,” said Harvey, a 2012 HRV graduate. “Our setters and our hitters just need to connect a little better. We did pretty well overall, and Gladstone was a good team to warm up with. We’re going to be playing some better teams in our conference though, so we have a lot of work to do.”

The Eagles play their opening home game of the season Thursday at 6:30 p.m. versus the Estacada Rangers (0-1) at Hood River Valley High School. HRV will play in an eight-team tournament Sept. 11 at Tualatin High School, followed by a Sept. 14 non-league road game against the Banks Braves (0-2). Their 19-game schedule includes four tournaments. The Eagles begin their 10-game IMC schedule Sept. 16 at home versus the Ridgeview Ravens.

Hood River’s 12-player roster consists of seven returning varsity team members from the spring squad, including Emma Kroll, Reese Leiblein, Kayla Sheasby, Lauren Sponhauer, Jacy Johnson, Marina Castaneda and Ryann Rosselle.

“Our returning players are super solid,” said Harvey. “Ryann and Marina were still pretty fresh last year as freshmen, but they’re getting their feet under them and putting up an impressive block and connecting really well on offense. With Emma, Kayla and (Casey) Beaman in the back row, it’s pretty rare to see anything drop. They know how to work hard and put balls we can make a play on.”

Gladstone (1-1) of the Class 4A Tri-Valley Conference, led from start-to-finish to win the opening set 25-12. The Eagles came out and played stronger in the second set and built a 3-0 lead, with Rosselle pounding kills to help lead the offense.

“I am definitely glad to see our season begin and I think after having a few more practices, that’s going to help us a little bit,” said Rosselle, a sophomore setter. “We fought hard tonight for a couple sets and there was only one that we were outplayed. Once our team starts bonding together, then I think we’ll be playing better. I think we have really good potential, but I think we just need to come together and communicate better. Since it was our first game, I think we did fine.”

After Gladstone knotted it 3-3, HRV came back to take another advantage at 6-3. Gladstone then fought back with 4-1 run to knot it 7-7 and the Gladiators never trailed again. A 5-0 Gladiator rally made it 12-7 and they extended the margin to 17-11 for their largest lead of the set. Gladstone remained in control and won the set 25-19.

The seesaw third set included two lead changes and four ties and it was a momentum change too for the Eagles, who started playing at a higher intensity level.

HRV had a 3-1 start, but Gladstone came back to take a 4-3 advantage. After the two squads continued trading points, HRV regained an 11-10 lead. Following deadlocks at 14 and 15, the Eagles scored a point on a sideout and then junior Casey Beaman served two straight service points, putting HRV in front 18-15.

The Eagles extended their advantage to 21-15, forcing a Gladstone timeout. The teams then traded points for the remainder of the set and the Eagles had some momentum after winning 25-19.

“I was definitely happy with the way the girls played tonight and in the last two sets, they really played their hearts out,” said Harvey.

In an exciting fourth set that included four lead changes and nine ties, HRV came back after trailing 2-0 and knotted it 3-3. Casteneda then served three consecutive aces to give the Eagles a 6-3 advantage. Junior Mallory McNerney pounded a kill to extend the lead to 7-3 and HRV then built its largest lead of the set at 9-4.

Gladstone responded by outscoring HRV 6-1 to knot it 10-10. Gladstone then built a 15-12 lead to force an Eagle timeout. The Eagles fought back and tied it 15-15, which was followed by five more deadlocks, with the final one at 20-20. Gladstone scored three straight points for a 23-20 edge, forcing another Eagle timeout. The Gladiators then scored the final two points for a 25-20 set win to conclude the match.