The Vikings and Bulldogs volleyball teams went face to face Thursday night in an Eastern Oregon League matchup. Vale shut out Nyssa in three sets with 25-10, 25-20, 25-12 marks. (The Enterprise/Kristine de Leon)

VALE - The Vale girls volleyball team is no stranger to success.

The Vikings showed they’re several steps ahead of the Nyssa Bulldogs, pulling out a three-set road sweep in an Eastern Oregon League match-up Thursday night. Set scores were 25-10, 25-20, and 25-12.

After battling through growing pains at the beginning of the season, the Lady Vikings team gained momentum and found ways to collect itself after setbacks. 

“The girls are really improving, and they’re really tough mentally,” said Varsity Coach Shannon Steele. “We’re a very young team and with that comes a huge learning curve. We’ve had to make lots of growth physically, mentally and emotionally.” 

She said her more-grueling-than-usual practices are paying off and that players are holding themselves accountable. The last two weeks of practice were rigorous, competitive and under the pressure of game conditions. 

“Practices have been very intense and very focused on stringing points together,” Steele said. “We’re working hard and holding ourselves to a standard of consistency and excellence.”

The Vikings performed like a well-oiled machine Thursday to the delight of a loud, boisterous audience in the high school gym. The senior players were at the top of their game, a pair of freshmen made major contributions, and a night of tough serving, good blocking and clean passing helped the team continue its winning ways.

Junior Demia Hardin led the team with 13 kills with freshman Jaymo Jensen tallying 11 kills. Junior setter Maycee DeLong greased the Vikings offense with 27 assists. Sophomore Emmy Johnson and senior Lexi Schaffeld both tallied seven kills, and Johnson was the team’s top performer in serve receive.

Senior Taty Gomez, a senior defensive specialist, said players did indeed get a little extra motivation after having to push more than usual during practices. She said her teammates are communicating more, which improves the team’s dynamic. 

“Tonight went really well. We had a lot of communication,” said Gomez. “I think we’re a lot more together as a team.”

Both Vale and Nyssa teams showed plenty of fight in the second set, which was tight at the beginning of the match. Points went back and forth between the Bulldogs and Vikings. At 15-15, the teams staged a long, impressive volley featuring sharp digs and blocks on each side before the Vikings’ attack gave a 16-15 lead on its way to finishing off the sweep.

“It was a tough loss,” said Bulldogs Coach Maddie Speelman. “It was more of a mental game for us.”

Junior Syriah Trujillo produced seven digs and three service aces to help the Bulldogs keep level with Vale. At middle blocker, junior Nicole Lambie finished with three kills.

Speelman said her team’s biggest barrier is the lack of confidence. Her players didn’t have the mental toughness to stay focused when things went wrong. 

She said Nyssa’s volleyball team is fairly young and some players are new to the sport. For instance, she said two of her setters are new to the position. It’s also Speelman’s first season coaching the girls' volleyball team.

“We’re working hard,” she said. “We’re just trying to make it to district playoffs. Girls haven’t made it to state in years, so I want to get them there one day.”

The Nyssa Bulldogs will face the Ontario Tigers next in a non-league match-up on Tuesday, Oct. 9 at Ontario. On the same day, the Vale Vikings will head to Burns for a high-stakes game with a chance to avenge their previous loss to the Highlanders.

Burns sits on top of the Eastern Oregon League with Vale second and Irrigon third. If the Vikings beat the Highlanders, the two would co-district champions.

“Burns will be an essential game,” said Steele. “It’s going to be a barn-burner.”

Reporter Kristine de Leon: news@malheurenterprise.com or 541-473-3377