Familiar names are back in today’s Class 4A state semifinals at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey.
Defending 4A state champion Olympia dispatched Union of Vancouver, 25-17, 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 winners will face off in the state title match at 8:15 p.m.
In October, Mead 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 on Friday) is what prepares us for the next game.”
The Lions swept Lake Stevens, 3-0, in their opening-round match and then took down Puyallup, 25-18, 22-25, 25-21, 25-18, in the quarterfinals.
The Jackson-Bellarmine semifinal will feature two Pacific-12 Conference volleyball prospects: Bellarmine junior Courtney Schwan, committed to the University of Washington, and Jackson senior Emmy Allen, a Washington State 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.
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,” 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 bidistrict 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 bidistricts,” 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.Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 email@example.com www.theolympian.com/southsoundsports @megwochnick