Oct. 26, 2019 — When the Viking’s volleyball team lost to Junction City on Tuesday night, the mood was dour.
“They were in the locker room crying,” coach Jon Hornung recalled. “I was like, ‘Guys, we have practice tomorrow. We don’t know if we’re done yet.’ It was a bizarre feeling.”
Since that night, the Viks have secured a spot in the playoffs and will be on the road to face Astoria this Tuesday at 5:15 p.m.
But going into last Tuesday’s game, the chances of getting into the playoffs were in continual flux.
Ranked 18th in the Sky-Em League, the Viks knew the game was a must-win to clinch a playoff berth — so Siuslaw came out fighting.
“The first two sets were great,” Hornung said. “It’s exactly how we were hoping to play all season. Realistically, the first two sets were the best sets we played all year. It just sucks that it was against the best team in the leauge and one of the best teams in the state.”
The first two sets were a continual back-and-forth, the crowd cheering “BOOM” and “WOOSH” every time a player made a thunderous kill or saved a ball with an aggressive dig. But despite the hard play, the Viks came up short, losing the first two sets, 25-21 and 25-22, respectively. By the time the third set rolled around, the energy was lost — the hill too tall to climb.
“It wasn’t super surprising we came out flat,” Hornung said, which led to a bittersweet moment at the buzzer when Hornung came out to the court and all the players raised their fists in a circle. It could have very well been their last game of the season.
That night, Siuslaw’s ranking sank to 19, then rose to 16, then back down to 18, dangerously close to falling out of the top 20 that would secure them a playoff spot. When Hornung talked about their chances on Wednesday, after the team had played what could have been its last game, the mood was cautious.
“It’s still on the bubble,” he said. “It was a bizarre way to end last night. All the seasons we’ve done so far, there’s been a definitive end. Last year we were ranked 22nd and we lost, so we knew we were done.”
But on Wednesday, they were back in the waiting game.
“It’s kind of cool,” Hornung said. “There wasn’t an end. I appreciate that. I also appreciate that they want to keep playing. On Monday, I talked to them like this is our last practice. The regular season ends on Tuesday, Monday can be it. But some of the kids were like, ‘Can we practice on Wednesday?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I guess if you want to.’”
This could have been a wrap-up interview for the season, so Hornung reminisced about the past.
“Honestly, this has been the best season I’ve ever coached,” he said. “The girls went out every single game, smiling and having fun. This team wants to be together, and they want to play together. This is the only time that I can say I have a volleyball team that is not six individuals, it is one team. Win-lose-or-draw, they go up as a team, they go down as a team. They are thick-and-thin, six players that play as one.”
But that team is made up of individuals, and Hornung took the time to talk about each one.
Senior Mia Collins is “the quintessential volleyball player,” Hornung said. “She’s been with me since I started coaching, and I don’t think she knows how much she means to the program. From seventh grade up to the seniors, so many people look up to her.”
Seventh graders come up to Hornung and say, “I want to be like Mia. I want to hit the ball and play defense like Mia.” But according to Hornung, Collins doesn’t realize her impact on the program — she views herself as just a volleyball player.
“I don’t think she has any idea that she’s convincing kids to work harder and play club because they see her on the court,” Hornung said. “You can have 50 kills a match, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is you going up to a seventh grader and giving them a hug and a high-five and seeing that kid light up. There’s so much more to being a player than just being on the court. I’m going to miss the hell out of her.”
He also said he was going to miss the hell out of senior Elissa Hurley, who is a testament to “busting your but and how good you can get if you work hard.”
During her sophomore year, then JV player Hurley went up to Hornung and asked if she would make varsity the next year. At the level of play she was at, it wasn’t looking good.
“She took that as motivation to come to every single open gym and every single summer practice we had,” Hornung said. They worked all summer long, dialed in her approach, and “she played unbelievably.”
But after her junior year, Hurley tore her ACL and was told that it would take a year to recuperate, missing her senior year.
“There goes volleyball,” Hornung said. “But over the summer, she said if she worked hard, she might be cleared in August. So, there’s that shred of hope that maybe she would play.”
Just a week before tryouts, she was cleared, and went on to gain 93 kills so far this year. Hornung called it unbelievable.
“The legacy she going to leave is so positive and all these girls are going to build off of it,” he said.
Graduating junior Lindsey Long doesn’t have a cell phone, which was a problem when Hornung was attempting to get her on the team this year.
“We weren’t sure if she was going to try out, wasn’t sure if she was going to come back,” he said. “I get to tryouts and she’s just standing there, saying, ‘Hey, ready for volleyball.’ I was so excited when I saw her. I knew she could do it.”
Hornung called Long a sponge for learning, going hard after every single practice and “just bust her butt and working so hard to get better. “She’ll make a mistake, turn, and say, ‘How can I fix that?’”
For the players will be returning next year, junior Kya Blake was a total surprise for Hornung.
“I had no idea what she was going to be this year. … . She’s had some huge games. She’s one kid who, if you’ll give her a shot, she’s going to go for it. I’ve been super happy with her. I never expected her to be an outside hitter and getting the number of hits she did and playing as well as is. She’s been awesome.”
Hornung called junior Delaney Foglio “a happy kid and I love her to death.”
Foglio had some injuries this year that prevented her from finishing out varsity. Instead, she’s been pushing herself on JV.
“For a lot of girls, and this has happened in the past, when they get hurt and moved down to JV, they quit,” Hornung said. “But Delany took it in stride,” Hornung said. “My hope is that she’ll use this to get better, to push herself in the off season and come back stronger.”
Hornung views sophomore Hayden Muller as a “little version” of himself.
“She sees the court similar to how I do. She’s been so much fun to play with and coach,” he said. “She’s had an awesome year. There’s no question in my mind that she will be the greatest defensive player for Siuslaw. She’s at 270 digs, which is unbelievable. To think about how many balls that could have been kills, that she saved points, is just crazy. She’s rolling on the ground, diving. I can’t imagine how bruised up she is. But she’s just such a cool kid.”
Sophomore Zoe Alberty’s positivity keeps things going. After a few games where the team was burned out and frustrated, Alberty came up to Hornung and said, “Even if we lose every game this season, I still think we’re going to have a lot of fun.”
“I reminded her of that last night after the game, and asked her if she had fun,” Hornung said. “She said, ‘Oh yeah, I had a blast.’ … Throughout it all, she’s maintained that positivity and has maintained that mental game of volleyball. I love pushing her because she can take it and keep going.”
Freshman Desi Tupua is an animal on the court, said Hornung.
“Desi exceeded every single expectation I have had for her,” Hornung said. “She’s at 177 kills right now. To think that she’s been on varsity for less than two months is unbelievable. When she got a huge kill last night, she just went nuts. The skies the limit on how good she can be, but I don’t think she even knows it. That’s my favorite part of her.”
Finally, freshman Hailee Outlaw has been a “breath of fresh air.” Over the summer, Hornung talked about getting Outlaw’s feet wet, playing JV, learning the ropes. Then a varsity injury forced Outlaw to be on the team, and she’s been killing it ever since.
“Generally, kids who are young don’t want to make mistakes,” Hornung explained. “They don’t want to be in those big pressure situations, but she’s going to swing hard no matter what.”
But Outlaw has been fearless.
“She has a different gear she somehow manages to find when she’s in a game,” Hornung said. “When the game starts, you know she’s going to go hard. Every set, she’s going to crush it. I never expected her to be where she is now.”
Last Tuesday night also saw three JV players take the court — Hali Corbin, Gracie Perkins and Alizabeth Norton — all of whom have been working hard throughout the season to bring the Viks where they are now.
As for the playoffs, Hornung said, “I don’t think teams will know what to expect because we’re so young. We can beat anyone. We can walk into a gym, playing any team in the state, and we could beat them. If we’re on fire, we can go into a gym and win. This is a team I think that can win. I wouldn’t bet against us.”