Ashland plays sixth-ranked Thurston on Friday in the OSAA Class 5A state quarterfinals. Usually, a match of that magnitude would provide plenty of motivation to occupy the minds of the players involved.

But this isn't a usual situation for either Thurston or the third-ranked Grizzlies, because both could be forgiven for looking ahead to a possible semifinal date with top-ranked Crook County. The Cowboys are the defending state champions and enter the tournament with just one loss to a 5A team &

and that was only by forfeit.

"That's definitely one thing," Ashland defensive specialist Dana Saladoff said. "We've got to take it one point, one game at a time."

Ashland faces Thurston at 3:15 p.m., with the winner slated to take on the Crook County-Glencoe winner at 8:30 p.m. The loser falls into the consolation bracket and won't play again until 10 a.m. Saturday. The 5A and 6A tournament will be held at Liberty High School in Eugene.

The Grizzlies don't know much about Thurston. The two teams have participated in some of the same tournaments but haven't played each other. The Colts won the Midwestern League and advanced to the final site by way of a straight-game win over Cleveland last Saturday. The Grizzlies needed a little longer, four games, to topple Bend in another playoff match Saturday.

"We beat Bend, that's one of our goals down, so now we have three more," Ashland setter Heidi Siebenlist said before practice Wednesday. "Our first step is Thurston."

Should Ashland earn a date with the Cowboys, it will for the first time in a long time be an underdog in the postseason. And a major underdog, at that. The Cowboys trounced the Grizzlies in two tournament meetings during the regular season and have had their way with most of their 6A opponents as well. Still, the Grizzlies insist they're a much better team now, and are capable of surprising the Oregon volleyball world.

"We've improved a lot and I don't know if they'll be ready for us," said Siebenlist, pointing out that the Grizzlies watched game film of Crook County on Tuesday. "We've gotten a lot better at the net. We go up and try to block everything, we're swinging harder and we're just playing a lot more aggressive.

"I think we need to not necessarily expect to win, but know and have the confidence that we can win and that we're good enough &

not start off timid and shy."

In other prep playoff action, the fourth-ranked Ashland High boys soccer team will also be traveling north to take on second-ranked Cleveland on Saturday in a state quarterfinal match, while the AHS girls soccer team will travel to face Bend in another Saturday quarterfinal match.

Sports editor can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.