The West Central District 4A volleyball tournament is traditionally a grind, the last test between some of the state’s elite programs before heading off to state.
The slimmest margins usually separate the top teams from those that are eliminated in two consecutive matches.
A dominating Bellarmine Prep squad, however, made this year’s edition look rather easy.
The top-ranked Lions remained undefeated, breezing past South Puget Sound League champion Kentwood, 25-15, 25-21, 25-17, to claim the district crown Saturday at Kentwood High School.
“There’s a lot of great teams here,” Bellarmine Prep coach Jody DeGroot said. “We wanted to see how we’d perform once we got pushed.”
The defending 4A state champion Lions did most of the shoving in the title match and will take a No. 1 seed and their 28-0 record into the state tournament, starting Friday at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey.
“We’re just trying to be consistent out there,” Lions senior outside hitter Courtney Schwan said. “We’re pretty confident if we play our best, we’re going to be tough to beat. We know we have that target on our backs.”
Schwan, who has big swings and equally intimidating serves, shined throughout the title match as she finished with 21 kills and seven aces.
Back-to-back aces by Schwan gave the Lions a 23-14 lead before a Reghan Pukis kill ended the first set.
Much of the Conquerors’ offense went through Lauren Hackett in the second set. The senior posted nine kills, helping Kentwood stay close for much of the set.
With the match tied at 17, Schwan recorded three kills and an ace to give Bellarmine Prep some breathing room.
An Emily Newberry block ended it at 25-21.
“We’ve talked a lot about playing with poise this year,” DeGroot said. “(Kentwood) went on a run in the second set, and I thought we were a little dazed. We talked about at this level teams are going to go on runs. The teams are just too talented here not to, but I was very pleased how we responded.”
There was just too much Schwan in the third set — she finished with seven kills — for Kentwood to overcome.
The Lions now turn their attention to defending their state crown. Bellarmine Prep will try to become the first back-to-back state champion since Mead capped its run of five consecutive state championships in 2007.
If the Lions succeed in Lacey, they would join Mead and Kentlake (2000-02) as the only 4A programs over the last 20 years to win back-to-back state titles.
Bellarmine advanced to the championship round with a 25-20, 25-11, 20-25, 25-19 semifinal win over SPSL South champion Emerald Ridge. It marked just the second set the Lions have dropped this season.
Kentwood, Emerald Ridge, Camas, Curtis, Spanaway Lake and Rogers (Puyallup) all wrapped up state berths.