LACEY – North Thurston just might have a secret winning formula for advancing at state: lounging around, watching movies and enjoying the comforts of their hometown.
Between the Rams’ opening-round win over Shorewood and its quarterfinal match against Columbia River Friday, North Thurston players and coaches took advantage of their school being located close to Saint Martin’s University by relaxing at a teammate’s near-by home.
The result? North Thurston emerged victorious with an epic five-set effort over Columbia River, 28-26, 23-25, 25-22, 25-27, 15-8, to send the Rams to today’s 3A state semifinals. It was fitting that the Rams’ win came in a five-set match; they are accustomed to it. They’ve played in seven five-set matches this season and have won three.
Tied at two sets apiece, North Thurston took control in the fifth set and grabbed the lead for good at 8-7. With the boisterous crowd behind them, the Rams went on a 6-0 run to take a 14-7 lead, and when they got the match point, the players and coaches’ emotions poured out.
“We trusted everyone the whole time,” said senior Brittany Rutherford, who along with teammate Jessica Malchow, had 17 kills against the Chieftains of Vancouver. “We didn’t ever get down ... usually when it goes five games, we figure it out.”
The Rams’ win was part of a wild first day at the Class 3A state tournament. Also in today’s semifinals are Southridge, Prairie and Holy Names. The 3A semifinals – North Thurston vs. Southridge, and Prairie vs. Holy Names – are scheduled for 1:30 p.m., with the winners advancing to the 8:15 p.m. title match.
Rams coach Micah McBride said he told his team to act like it has been at state before, even though the program’s last appearance came in 1995. The 17-year drought has ended, and North Thurston is guaranteed a top-4 finish, which will be its highest in school history.
“This group is something other,” McBride said. “We have an opportunity to do something special ... It’s pretty awesome.”
Prairie’s road to the semifinals also wasn’t an easy one. The Falcons survived a five-set opening-round match over Mercer Island after trailing two sets to none, then swept Auburn Mountainview (25-11, 25-20, 25-18) in the quarterfinals. Prairie appears to have regained its form after a disappointing appearance at the West Central/Southwest bi-district tournament, where the Falcons went 2-2 with a surprising five-set loss to Bonney Lake, followed by a 3-1 loss to Auburn Mountainview.
When the Lions and Falcons met a second time in Friday’s quarterfinal match, Prairie left little doubt that it had rebounded.
Karlee Lubenow led Prairie with a match-high 18 kills, nine digs and two aces.
“Because we lost to Auburn Mountainview at bi-districts,” Prairie coach Andrea Doerfler said, “the girls really wanted come out and play our game and take care of business on our side of the net.”
Prairie’s next opponent is perhaps the biggest surprise of the tournament – Holy Names Academy. The Cougars entered the tournament on a run after barely making their Metro League tournament, but took care of Bonney Lake and Mount Spokane in four sets.
Familiar names are back in today’s Class 4A state semifinals at Saint Martin’s University.
Defending 4A state champion Olympia dispatched Union of Vancouver, 25-17, 22-25, 27-25, 25-20, in the final quarterfinal match of the night after topping Wenatchee in three sets to begin the day. The Bears face Mead in today’s 3:15 p.m. semifinal while Jackson and Bellarmine Prep – two favorites coming into this weekend’s state tournament – meet in the other semifinal. The semifinal winners will face off in the state title match at 8:15 p.m.
In October, Bellarmine topped Jackson in the annual Crossover Classic, a 64-team tournament in Spokane.
“It will be a tough road,” Jackson coach Ashley Allen said, “but games like this (a four-set win over Emerald Ridge Friday) is what prepares us for the next game.”
The Jackson-Bellarmine semifinal will feature two Pacific-12 Conference volleyball prospects: Bellarmine junior Courtney Schwan, committed to UW and Jackson senior Emmy Allen, a WSU commit.
Olympia beat Wenatchee, 25-13, 25-18, 25-17, in the opening-round behind Rachel Kelson’s 13 kills and seven digs. The junior outside hitter added eight against Union, but the biggest playmaker was 6-foot-4 hitter Michaela Berendt, who notched 20 kills on 28 attempts.
“We felt like if we could mixed it up a bit enough we could isolate our middle one on one and we felt like that was a favorable matchup for us,” Olympia coach Laurie Creighton said.
Tumwater’s volleyball team knows what it’s like to be the bridesmaid instead of the bride.
This year, they simply weren’t going to tolerate not being invited to the wedding.
The Thunderbirds, which were runners-up in last year’s Class 2A state volleyball tournament, rallied to a 3-2 win (25-23, 26-28, 23-25, 25-18, 16-18) over Anacortes in the quarterfinal at Pierce College in Lakewood.
Tumwater will play Colville in the semifinals at 12:30 p.m. today. The Indians swept Sequim 3-0 (25-13, 25-17, 25-17) on Friday night.
“That was the most intense thing I have ever been a part of,” said Tumwater senior setter Courtney Bowen, who tallied 53 assists. “But I didn’t think for one minute that we wouldn’t come back and win it.”
The Thunderbirds, which swept East Valley of Yakima, 3-0, in the opening round, controlled the first half of the first game, but the Seahawks came back to tie it 19-19 and then hold the lead until the end.
Tumwater got off to a fast 12-8 lead in the second game and kept Anacortes at bay despite a late run to narrow the score to 25-24. The momentum continued through the third game.
After Anacortes capitalized on Tumwater’s mistakes in game four to tie the match at 2-all, things got intense in the final round. Every time one team would score, the other would respond with its own crushing kill.
Thunderbirds coach Tana Otton said that her team has a specific goal in mind, “and this is one step toward that.”
“Right before we came out for the fifth game, they were relaxed and smiling,” she said. “You could see how excited they were to be going five games.”
Tumwater senior middle hitter Hannah Hanson had a team-high 22 kills, while senior offensive hitter Karlee Sampson contributed 21 kills and 14 digs.
Capital lost its opener to West Valley of Yakima, 3-1, before beating Sumner, 3-0. The Cougars will face Sehome at 8:30 a.m. today.Contributing writer Jennifer Chancellor contributed to this report.