Now it’s time to start really thinking about that second consecutive 4A state title.
How good is this Auburn Riverside High School volleyball team?
It made mincemeat of the best teams the staunch 4A South Puget Sound League has to offer — beating Puyallup, Curtis and then Emerald Ridge in consecutive matches to clinch its second consecutive 4A West Central District title.
“That’s why I love our district because it’s so intense and so tough,” said Auburn Riverside’s Calley Heilborn, The News Tribune’s reigning All-Area player of the year. “It’s not some easy little thing, like, ‘Oh, we won districts.’ It’s a big deal.”
But how the top-ranked Ravens did that was most impressive.
After a 3-0 win over Puyallup in the quarterfinals and a 3-1 win over Curtis in the semifinals, it cruised past Emerald Ridge, 3-1, for the title. Those three 4A SPSL schools tied for the regular-season title before Emerald Ridge won the 4A SPSL tournament title.
And consider this – of the past six state champions, five are from the 4A SPSL and the other is Auburn Riverside of the 4A NPSL Olympic.
“It’s just so awesome because we’ve worked so hard to get here,” Heilborn said. “We’re not the kind of team that at the beginning of the season is like, ‘Oh, we’re going to go try to win state.’ We want to take it one step at a time – try to win league, try to win subdistricts, try to win districts.”
Check, check and check.
Auburn Riverside won the first set against Emerald Ridge, 25-8. It was 16-7 before the Ravens outscored ER 9-1 the rest of the way.
Heilborn showed her versatility and why she’s committed to play volleyball at Western Washington University, finishing with 21 kills and 16 digs. Colorado State commit Ciera Zimmerman had 45 assists and Kate Pestova added 17 digs and 13 kills.
“We went out aggressive,” Zimmerman said. “We made a point to swing and swing and swing and swing and break down their defense. We watched film on them and we saw the corners were wide open and that’s why we were attacking those.”
“We knew they were going to be super good and come out with a lot of energy,” Heilborn said. “Kava Durr and Tayler Templeman are some of the best hitters in the state and we knew we had to have a lot of energy.”
The second set was far tighter. But leading 20-17, Heilborn raced to almost the back doors of Kentwood High School’s gymnasium to keep a point alive before Anna Maracich blocked an Emerald Ridge spike for the point. That carried the Ravens to a 25-17 second-set win.
They led 18-11 in trying to complete the sweep – a year after beating Bellarmine Prep for the district title – but Emerald Ridge fought back, scoring seven unanswered points to tie it and eventually took the third set, 25-23.
But there would be no ER comeback like in the semifinals against Tahoma, when it trailed 2-0 before winning 3-2. Auburn Riverside closed it out with a 25-16 win.
It was Emerald Ridge’s first loss in almost two months, since losing to Puyallup, 3-1, on Sept. 28. It’s only other loss was 3-1 against Auburn Riverside on Sept. 12.
“They run a quick offense,” Emerald Ridge co-coach Bobby McGivern said. “Ciera is one of the top setters in the state and she moves the ball quick. And she’s got some weapons with both outsides, they got some dynamic middles and they stretch you out defensively.”
Templeman led the Jaguars with 13 kills, nine blocks and three blocks, Ella Litterell had 11 kills, Durr, also a Colorado State commit, had 11 digs and seven kills – including some supersonic spikes – and Jaydn Mullen had 33 assists and 10 digs.
Tahoma took the No. 3 seed to the 4A state tournament, which will be at the Toyota Center in Kennewick from Friday-Saturday, with a win over Curtis.
Puyallup and Graham-Kapowsin both bounced back to grab state berths and Kennedy Catholic swept Kentridge for the seventh and final allocation from the district to the state tournament.
Auburn Riverside will open state against Skyline at 11:30 a.m. on Friday; Emerald Ridge faces Richland; Tahoma plays Jackson; Curtis plays Walla Walla; Puyallup takes on West Valley of Yakima; Graham-Kapowsin faces Lake Stevens and Kennedy Catholic plays Eastlake.
Zimmerman is just hoping to add to her impressive state volleyball resume. She was the 1B state tournament MVP for Christian Faith of Federal Way in 2015 and helped the school to back-to-back third-place finishes at state before transferring to 4A Auburn Riverside for her junior year. So she’s made it to at least the state semifinals every year of her high school career.
“It would mean so much to me, honestly,” Zimmerman said of potentially winning another state title. “My finger, it just needs another ring. I want to end on top and finish strong with my best friends.”
3A DISTRICT TOURNAMENT
Capital 3, Gig Harbor 0: The Cougars edged the Tides in three close sets, 25-20, 25-23, 25-18.
“Our big goal was to make it to state,” Gig Harbor coach Melissa Klein said. “We did that at the beginning of the day.”
Having met that goal early, they still had to battle their way through the rest of the day and they eventually were stopped by Capital in the 3A West Central/Southwest bidistrict title match.
“Our girls played with heart,” Klein said. “I’m very proud of what they accomplished.”
Timberline 3, North Thurston 2: A matchup of league rivals saw the Blazers take it to five sets against the Rams and ultimately winning for the third seed from the district to the state tournament.
Leading the charge was Daja Togiola as she got five kills, assists and blocks, while coming up big defensively with 26 digs.
“They just stuck together, when we struggled in a serve receive, they talked it through and battled out of challenging times,” Timberline coach Krista Manke said. “Our league is hard, and it was in the top four this year so it shows that we are competitive and it sets us up for feeling confident going to state.”
Chloe Sandberg also got 44 assists, 21 digs and three aces for Timberline.
Prairie and Stadium grabbed the final two allocations from the district to the state tournament, which will take place Friday and Saturday at the Toyota Center in Kennewick, with Stadium ending Spanaway Lake’s season and Prairie knocking off Bonney Lake.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677