It was the Grizzlies' 18th consecutive Southern Sky Conference victory over three seasons and reinforced who is the team to beat in the league — again — this fall.

The ball hung there, suspended in mid-air, inches above the net, for what seemed an eternity. Finally, the right arm of Niki Small made contact and hammered it toward the hardwood, driving, as it were, the final nail into an airtight coffin.

Small's kill, coming off a perfect set by Drew Van Vleck, was the climatic point of the latest triumph by the Ashland High volleyball team, a 25-14, 25-16, 25-15 sweep of Eagle Point on Thursday night at the Ashland Middle School Gymnasium.

It was the Grizzlies' 18th consecutive Southern Sky Conference victory over three seasons and reinforced who is the team to beat in the league — again — this fall.

"They came out fired up and ready to play," coach Jodee Scott said of the team, ranked third in Class 5A this week. "We've been talking about getting better every game no matter who we play"¦ and they did that tonight."

The hitters — seniors Asia Kane and Taylor Hartrick and juniors Small and Hayley Ross — combined for 32 kills, many off picture-perfect sets by senior Kiley Pinder (26 assists) and Van Vleck.

"The pass is probably the most important part of the whole system," said Ross, who had six kills. "They start off everything. Without good passing, we don't have anything. We have great setting right now."

"Our passing was great today," Scott added. "They were very disciplined. They waited for the ball to come to them and put it where it needed to be. It really opened up opportunities for our setters and our hitters got to have some fun at the net."

Kane led the way with 11 kills, while Hartrick and Small had seven each.

"It goes from a good pass to a good set," Small said. "The easy part is killing it."

The Grizzlies (10-8 overall, 2-0 SSC), who swept aside Klamath Union 3-0 in their SSC opener on Tuesday, have become so dominant in conference that the team has taken it upon itself to seek out new challenges.

While the ultimate prize — a possible state championship — will have to wait for six weeks, the immediate goal has become a march through the SSC without the loss of a single game. The team was close the past two seasons, losing only game each year.

"The way we played tonight, it looks like we can probably accomplish it," Ross said.

Kane served six straight points as Ashland jumped to a 10-4 lead in the opening game and never looked back.

After falling behind 9-4 to start game two, Eagle Point (2-4, 0-1) rallied to force a 9-all tie. But the Grizzlies took command from there, scoring seven straight points — six on the serve of Elizabeth Westmoreland — to grab a 16-9 lead and never trailed again.

"I think this is what Ashland is supposed to do," said Eagle Point coach Rob Kleker. "The speed they have on their front line is so good. ... It's not something we've seen since North Medford, our first match."

The Eagles, who were without the services of senior Erin Hedrick, got five kills from Kristin Wyatt and 20 digs from McKensie Re, but never seriously challenged.

In fact, at Ashland, practices are sometimes more competitive than the matches themselves.

"Everybody is stepping up and challenging each other to get better every single day," Scott said. "We're looking at the end of the season and where we want to be and everyday is a day that gets us closer to there."

Ashland will compete in the West Albany Tournament on Saturday before resuming conference action at Mazama on Thursday.