LAKEWOOD — Lose your focus just before needing it the most?
If you’re West Valley’s volleyball team, and you know how to find it again, seize it with a vice grip and not let go, such a dangerous thing turns into an inspiration.
And a state championship.
The Rams reversed a district loss to rival Selah in Saturday’s semifinals and then knocked off previously unbeaten Tumwater in convincing style to capture the Class 2A championship at Pierce College — a year after winning the 3A title.
Falling to the Vikings just over a week ago forced West Valley to fight through a tough bracket, and the Rams did so with force by beating teams that placed eighth, sixth and third to reach the final against Tumwater, which brought a 35-0 record into the championship match.
But the difficult path only sparked the Rams more, and they used their defensive speed and offensive diversity to beat the Thunderbirds 25-23, 18-25, 25-22, 25-18.
To punctuate the day with a no-doubt finish, West Valley hit Tumwater with an 8-0 run late in the fourth set.
Nobody wants to lose a match heading into state, but every West Valley player agreed it was just what they needed to perform at this level this week.
“Losing that match made us want this even more,” said senior Dakota Adams, who had a team-high 15 kills and 14 digs against Tumwater. “We got refocused, worked harder than ever in practice and came here believing we could win it. We knew we had a harder bracket because of the loss, and that made us work harder, too.”
Junior Erika Crawford closed out championship point with her 14th kill and the set came fittingly from four-year setter Julia Nathe, who ran the offense for back-to-back title teams and a third-place crew two years ago.
Nathe put together 44 assists against Tumwater and her final set to Crawford finished her career with the silly number of 2,801 assists.
“Obviously we were super upset after losing last week and thinking it was the worst thing that ever happened,” she said. “But we got over it, looked at what we had to do and got re-motivated. In practice we worked harder than ever and that effort got us excited again. We came here knowing we could beat any team we faced. It was like a sense of calm, knowing we could do it.”
Ally Moore, a senior outside hitter, balanced the striking ability of Crawford and Adams with 12 kills and 21 digs. Tumwater, which beat Selah in last year’s semifinals and fell to Burlington-Edison in the final, was taller with an impressive block. But the quicker Rams found the seems and gaps and Nathe had plenty of weapons to pick from.
“We put it all together. We knew Tumwater had big blocks but we tried to be smart and work the whole court,” Moore said. “We had the mindset to fight harder all week. Losing to Selah absolutely pumped us up and I think it helped playing them (in the semifinals). We wanted to play them again.”
Senior libero Carly Riehl led West Valley’s defense with 24 digs against the hard-hitting Thunderbirds.
To get to the final, the Rams had to deal with Selah’s impressive balance and defense and they did so with a 25-22, 25-21, 26-28, 25-12 victory.
Adams had 19 kills and Moore collected 11 kills and 13 digs for West Valley, which countered Selah’s fast starts with a 9-2 finish in the first set and a 13-4 closing run in the second set.
West Valley’s program has won a trophy in 13 straight trips to state since winning the AA title in 1989.
“It’s a perfect ending,” Nathe said. “It was good to have a tough road because it brought out the best in us.”
WEST VALLEY HIGHLIGHTS
Semifinal vs. Selah: Ally Moore 11 kills, 13 digs; Erika Crawford 9 kills, 15 digs; Hannah Marang 8 kills, 21 digs; Dakota Adams 19 kills; Julia Nathe 48 assists; Carly Riehl 24 digs; Bridgette Webb 3 kills.
Championship vs. Tumwater: Moore 12 kills, 21 digs; Crawford 14 kills, 20 digs; Marang 4 kills; Adams 15 kills, 14 digs; Nathe 44 assists, 15 digs; Riehl 24 digs; Megan Atkinson 2 kills; Webb 1 kill, 5 digs.