Prior to Saturday's playoff match against Pendleton, the Ashland High volleyball team gathered in the team room and talked about the keys to success against the No. 3-ranked Buckaroos.

Prior to Saturday's playoff match against Pendleton, the Ashland High volleyball team gathered in the team room and talked about the keys to success against the No. 3-ranked Buckaroos.

Blocking was brought up by somebody. Another Grizzly felt serve receive would be crucial. How about intensity? chimed in a third.

Then junior middle blocker Niki Small raised her hand.

"Let's just play Ashland volleyball," she said.

"That's just the thing that sums it all up," she added prior to Wednesday's practice at Ashland Middle School, "because every single aspect of the game is in that, and we always play Ashland volleyball. That's our game."

That mentality worked for the No. 2-ranked Grizzlies (21-11-1) in their four-game win over Pendleton, and they hope it does again when Ashland faces No. 8 West Albany (13-4) Friday morning in the OSAA Class 5A state quarterfinals in Hillsboro. The semifinals will be played Friday night and the eight-team tournament wraps up with the championship match Saturday night. All the matches will be played at Liberty High School, where six of the eight teams will leave with trophies.

"We want first (place)," Ashland senior middle blocker Taylor Hartrick said. "We've been kind of living by the motto that any team can beat any other team on any given day."

Ashland and West Albany have done this before. The Southern Sky Conference-champion Grizzlies beat the Bulldogs, the No. 3 seeds out of the Mid-Willamette Conference, in last season's third-place match.

The Grizzlies don't remember much about last year's version of the Bulldogs, except that they had "big blockers, strong hitters" and were scrappy. The two teams haven't faced off in a full match this season, although they did play three points against each other at a tournament before a scheduling gaffe was discovered and the match was stopped.

West Albany took a long road to state. The Bulldogs swept Churchill in the first round of the playoffs Oct. 28, then toughed out a five-game road win over ninth-ranked Glencoe in Saturday's second round.

"They're a good team," Ashland head coach Jodee Scott said. "They've been ranked in the top 10 all year so they're definitely a worthy adversary and someone we're not overlooking.

"I think we need to focus on our side of the court and the energy that we bring and realize that the other team is going to get some points, but we just have to score more points. Volleyball is a game of mistakes and whichever team makes less mistakes is going to be the winner."

The Ashland-West Albany winner will play either No. 6 Crescent Valley (15-5) or No. 4 Mountain View (18-7) in the semifinals at 6:30 p.m. Friday, while the loser will drop into the consolation bracket and won't play again until 8 a.m. Saturday.

On the bottom half of the bracket, Thurston (10-6) faces seventh-ranked Summit (14-11-1), while top-ranked and two-time defending state champion Crook County (27-6-2) takes on 12th-ranked Liberty (11-6).

Crook County is the heavy favorite to win it all again, but the Cowgirls aren't the dominant force they were last season when they beat Ashland in the semifinals.

"I think if we play to our highest potential we can give everyone a run for their money," Small said. "I'm not saying we have a guaranteed spot, but I think that we could go really far if we play to our highest potential."

Ashland may have approached that potential against Pendleton. Led by Hartrick, senior outside hitter Asia Kane, senior setter Kiley Pinder and junior outside Hayley Ross, the Grizzlies handled the Buckaroos' often blistering serves to generate powerful attacks at key moments. Ashland

Scott said Ashland's clutch performance against Pendleton proved that the Grizzlies are ready for the challenge.

"That was definitely our strongest and toughest competition all year as far as pressure," she said. "They definitely rose to the occasion and played the best game they've played all year and I think that this team has the mental wherewithal and strength to do that in the first round, in the second round and in the finals, but all the pieces have to come together."

Sports editor Joe Zavala can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.zavala@dailytidings.com