With its third site in three years, the Class 2A state volleyball tournament has been a drifter on the WIAA landscape. And now its turned into a melting pot of champions.
West Valley will be one of three 2011 state champions converging on Lakewood’s Pierce College on Friday and Saturday, and the Rams will have plenty of CWAC company with district champion Selah and East Valley in the 16-team mix.
Moved from Olympia’s Evergreen State College last year, this 2A state tournament will have the rare distinction of having a trio of reigning titleholders — West Valley (down from 3A), Burlington-Edison (2A) and Colville (up from 1A).
As the CWAC’s unbeaten league champions, the Rams spent much of the season ranked No. 1 in the coaches poll but Selah’s four-game conquest of West Valley in last week’s district final gives them shared status as title contenders along with current No. 1 Tumwater and Colville.
Unfortunately, there’s no chance of a Selah-West Valley championship final since they are in the same semifinal bracket. If they meet in Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. semifinal round, the winner would play for the title — against most likely Tumwater or Colville — at 7:30 and the loser would play for third and fourth at 5:30.
A week ago, after sweeping Selah in conference play, West Valley had all the momentum heading into the postseason. But Selah’s district victory reaffirmed what 21 state trophies and six titles proves — Kay Aberle’s Vikings always peak at the right time.
But it took some doing.
“We reached a point a few weeks ago when our confidence just wasn’t there,” said Aberle, referring to a home loss to West Valley followed by an erratic day at the Capital Invitational. “We had some injuries, we moved some people around and it effected everyone. After Capital we talked about stepping up and getting back to playing team ball. We had some good practices after that and it got things going in the right direction.”
Forced to switch from a two-setter offense when junior Cheyenne Fletcher got hurt and senior Kera Dexter took over all the setting, Selah spent most of October adjusting to the change. By last week, the Vikings had found their rhythm again as CWAC player of the year Kailee Wood pounded 49 kills in two district matches and outside-hitting counterpart Taylor Wicht put away 39 kills.
While Selah returns to state with eight players who helped last year’s team place third, losing only to Tumwater in the semifinals, Aberle also has seven sophomores and two who start — Payton Gibbs and Kerista Goodpaster.
“We had a lot of kids coming up from JV, and experience takes a while,” the coach said. “Their confidence has grown. You could see it in the one game we lost to West Valley (when Selah trailed 19-7 but got within 25-22). A couple weeks ago they would’ve written that game off but this time they fought back. We carried that into the third game and didn’t let up.”
Understandably, and in timely fashion, West Valley’s practices since the loss to Selah have been intense. Things to fix, focus to reacquire.
“Selah played an amazing game and it was our wake-up call,” said WV coach Katie Hinckley. “This time of year it’s all about the team that focuses the longest and we lost that a little bit last week. But the positive is we know what we have to do. We know the level we have to step up to.”
The Rams have the experience with eight players back from last year’s 3A title team and the leadership of four seniors named this week to the CWAC all-league first team — Ally Moore, Dakota Adams, Carly Riehl and four-year setter Julia Nathe.
“I’m counting on those girls who have been to state before to lead this team,” the coach said. “This is when we need to take advantage of that experience.”
West Valley went through its league schedule unbeaten, beating Selah 3-0 and 3-1, but falling to the Vikings 3-1 last week was evidence, Hinckley said, of the need to keep pushing the edge.
“Our girls didn’t play that bad, but when things aren’t going your way you have to take risks and keep attacking,” she said. “Playing it safe doesn’t work, especially this time of year. That’s something we’ve talked about and they understand it.”
West Valley opens Friday against Capital, the Southwest’s No. 2 seed behind Tumwater, with Burlington-Edison looming as a possible quarterfinal opponent in the evening.
Selah’s district title produced a nice draw as the Vikings open with White River, the No. 5 seed out of the West Central. Get through that and the quarterfinal opponent would be either Sehome or Washington.
East Valley has the tall task of opening Friday against top-ranked Tumwater, but the Red Devils are as well equipped to handle it as any unranked team.
Not only has EV been elevated by the tough state-caliber competition Selah and West Valley provide, but coach Darci Dekker’s crew includes seven players with state experience. The Red Devils were 0-2 a year ago but both matches went five games.
“We’re still young with only three seniors, but we’ve got more experience than last year and the girls believe they can place at state — that’s our goal,” said Dekker, the CWAC’s coach of the year.
While EV’s youth is evident in starting three sophomores, the team is led by three-year junior setter Maci Beierle, who was last year’s co-CWAC player of the year, and three seniors named second-team all-league — Ashley Bailey, Samantha McCrumb and Maddie Gamache. After a four-game setback to Selah in the district semifinals, the Red Devils earned their state berth by sweeping Grandview and East Valley of Spokane.
“We’ll run into teams bigger than us, like Tumwater, so we’ve got to be quick and play great defense,” Dekker noted. “We’ve built our season on that and maybe we’ll be underestimated a little at state. Our focus is on placing and getting to Saturday.”