It took about a second — maybe less — after freshman Devyn Oestreich’s kill on championship point in the 3A state volleyball tournament title match for she and her Capital High School teammates to form a giant, laughing, sobbing pile on the Toyota Center floor here Saturday.
But don’t be fooled. This team — a mix of rookies and veterans, eclectic personalities and a starting lineup with more underclassmen than seniors — was always that close.
Capital (21-1) knocked off Mercer Island (25-23, 14-25, 25-16, 25-14) for Class 3A’s biggest trophy, finishing the season without a loss after Oct. 4, to win the first volleyball title in program history.
“After that loss, we pulled together,” said Capital sophomore Maia Nichols, who was named tournament MVP. “We knew that if we were going to win state, this would be the year.”
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That premonition was partially forged during tryouts, when the Cougars got a look at freshman Oestreich (15 kills, four aces, two blocks in the title match) and Madison Nichols (two kills, two blocks, two digs).
It marinated and grew more potent as the team’s natural chemistry carried it through adversity. The October setback at Gig Harbor was a flashpoint.
“At our next practice, we asked ourselves, ‘What are we going to do from here?’ ” recalled senior setter Elise Meath. “That loss kept us from getting first in league. We’re happy now.”
“We all knew our parts here,” she added. “Tonight, we all were at our best.”
“I knew I had a really, really special group of girls,” coach Katie Turcotte said. “We focus on character-building, and I have six seniors (Meath, Devyn Collins, Tia Grow, Paris Crawford, Brigitte Neuville, Grace Grimstead) who are not just phenomenal players but phenomenal people.
“We have two freshmen and two sophomores on the floor all the time. We have fantastic juniors. I’m proud of that depth.”
Capital dropped one set in the first round and one more in the quarterfinals, seeming to summon its best volleyball after each pitfall.
The same held in the title bout; the Cougars lost their cohesiveness defensively and suffered through a surprisingly one-sided loss in the second set, then romped through the third and fourth, leading wire-to-wire.
“Our focus was to be disciplined,” said Turcotte. “Our word of the day was ‘composure.’ ”
Meath led a back row that was Capital’s bedrock throughout the tournament with 27 digs. Grow handed out 21 assists and had seven digs.
Maddie Mathews, a sophomore, had 14 assists, 11 digs and two service aces. Junior Betsy Knutson-Keller added eight kills, two blocks and three digs.
In the semifinals Saturday, Capital swept Eastside Catholic (25-17, 25-19, 25-22) to earn its fourth title-match appearance in program history.
In so doing, the Cougars won their fifth consecutive set in the tournament since facing set point in pivotal Game 3 of Friday’s quarterfinal against Lakeside, one serve after junior Emma Boyd was whacked in the head by a Lakeside spike and had to leave the match for injury evaluation.
Capital closed ranks and rode a wave of solidarity past Eastside Catholic and into the championship.
“We’re gelling right now,” Meath said after the semifinal victory. “Our team chemistry is amazing. We have six seniors who know one another. We communicate. We have faith in each other. We know what we want.”
Meath had 15 digs to help underwrite setters Grow (18 assists) and Mathews (14 assists), who found Nichols (20 kills) and Oestreich (15 kills) up and down the tape.
“Eastside Catholic is a really good team,” Meath said. “I think our mental game is what won it for us. You separate points. You say, ‘We’ll get the next one’.”
North Thurston and Timberline saw their tournament runs end just shy of the trophy round.
Gig Harbor defeated North Thurston (25-12, 25-7, 25-20) in an elimination match and Snohomish outlasted Timberline (25-24, 16-26, 23-25, 25-23, 15-9).