UNION GAP, Wash. — As the momentum shifted back and forth on several occasions Tuesday night at La Salle, one constant remained for the Lightning.
Setter Lillian Wixson always seemed to find the ball, or from another perspective, it found her. She never left the court as La Salle jumped out to a huge early lead over Granger en route to capturing the first two sets, then dropped one before bouncing back to earn a 25-15, 25-15, 19-25, 25-22 in a pivotal SCAC West matchup.
“Lill is a quiet leader, but a strong, confident leader and she has great body and facial positioning,” coach Erin Hansen said. “She can communicate very well with subtleness, which keeps everyone calm but yet intense and really involved in knowing what to do next and where to go and what’s open.”
Those skills and ability to read the game allowed her to arrive at the right spot, then make the split-second decisions necessary to distribute 50 assists to her teammates. She also wasn’t afraid to capitalize on an opening to knock the ball over the net between defenders herself, resulting in four kills.
But even with the quality of Wixson’s passes, those numbers wouldn’t be possible without plenty of capable hitters giving her options on either side. Five Lightning players notched at least five kills, highlighted by 15 for Trista Hull, 13 for Brooke Silvernail and 11 for Courtney Standley.
“It’s such a change from the last couple years,” Wixson said. “It’s so amazing to have a group of girls that I can do anything with just because for the last couple we had maybe two good hitters, or one, and this year it’s just all the way around.”
She knows all of them well enough to understand where to go when she sees someone open, or just loudly yelling for the ball. Wixson also finds a balance between keeping the defense guessing and finding the hot hand, like Hull when she ended the second set with three straight kills.
Just about everyone appeared to be in sync as La Salle reeled off nine straight points, including two aces, to take control of the first set with Destiney Lopez serving. Wixson and Hansen both said that sequence proved critical as the Lightning gained confidence against a team that beat them 2-1 at the SunDome Volleyball Festival less than two weeks ago.
Another 9-0 run — with two more aces — on Brooke Silvernail’s serve gave La Salle an insurmountable 24-14 lead in the second set, but Granger responded after the break. Senior Lily Stewart led the Spartans on offense and defense with 15 kills and 19 digs despite frequently facing two Lightning defenders at the net.
“She’s absolutely amazing and we are very respectful to her as a defensive and an offensive player,” Hansen said. “She’s an all-around amazing, versatile player so we’ve got to put a big block up on her and we’ve got to be able to dig her balls.”
They did that enough to become the last unbeaten team in SCAC West, despite losing a game for the first time in five matches. Hansen said grit and the ability to overcome adversity helped La Salle grind out the last set, which was tied at 20.
The Lightning (4-0 SCAC West, 5-0 overall) know there’s still plenty of work to do starting with a trip to Zillah, plus rematches on the road against Naches Valley and Granger still left on the schedule. But the traditional league powers certainly won’t be taking La Salle lightly the next time around.
“I just think they didn’t see us coming,” Wixson said. “We’ve never been this good. We’ve never beat teams like this. We’re kind of out of nowhere.”
Granger highlights: Delilah Schneider 8 kills, 2 digs; Galilea Birrueta 3 kills; Isamar Solorio 5 digs; Lily Stewart 15 kills, 2 aces, 19 digs, 2 blocks; Naya Roettger 20 assists, 20 digs, 3 kills, 1 block; Nizhoni Tallman 5 digs, 2 assists, 1 ace; Lenikiah SantaCruz 8 digs.
La Salle highlights: Rachel Silvernail 5 kills, 2 digs, 3 aces, 2 blocks; Teryn May 7 kills, 2 digs, 1 block; Lillie Wixson 50 assists, 4 kills, 2 digs, 1 ace; Courtney Standley 11 kills, 4 assists, 4 digs, 1 block; Trista Hull 15 kills, 3 blocks; Brooke Silvernail 13 kills, 8 digs, 5 aces.