Auburn Riverside’s volleyball team wore a target on its back all season. That comes when you’re saddled with the “team to beat” label.
The Ravens can now happily remove that target and replace it with a crown.
Precious Atafua, Kasey Holand and Carson Heilborn paced Auburn Riverside’s powerful attack as the Ravens knocked off Capital, 3-0, to win the Class 3A state championship at Saint Martin’s University’s Marcus Pavilion on Saturday.
It’s unlikely anyone would be surprised with the Ravens’ title victory, but the way the squad steamrolled through the tournament was still incredibly impressive as they swept all four opponents they faced to capture the school’s first state title.
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The sets in the finals were 25-16, 25-23, 25-20.
With Atafua and Holand each taking turns loosening the floorboards on the other side of the net in the first set, Auburn Riverside raced out to a 7-0 lead, which quickly ballooned to 18-4 after Roxy King hammered a pair of aces.
The Cougars briefly got their offense on track, using a 9-3 run, highlighted by kills from Paige Schieferstein and Hali Ehresmann, to cut the deficit to 21-13, but it was just too much early attack power for Capital to overcome as the Ravens won the first set 25-16.
Capital was forced to play catch-up in the second set as well, trailing 15-8 before a pair of aces by Sam Yorke pulled the Cougars within a point at 17-16.
A Yorke block of an Atafua attack tied the set at 22, but Atafua would strike the next point with a kill as Auburn Riverside went on to win the set, 25-23.
Capital’s Rachel Erickson tied the third set at 17 with a kill before Schieferstein kill giving the Cougars an 18-17 advantage.
Auburn Riverside responded by scoring the set’s next three points to reclaim the lead for good and went on to win the set, 25-20.
The Ravens dispatched Columbia River in straight sets to reach the title match.
It was a rematch of last week’s West Central/Southwest Washington District championship clash, where Auburn Riverside needed a big rally after dropping the first two sets to the Chieftains to win in five.
With Atafua leading the attack, the Ravens made sure round 2 against Columbia River was over quickly with sets going 25-20, 25-23, 25-18.
Despite the loss in the championship match, the Cougars, for a second consecutive season, cranked up their play late and once again excelled when the postseason rolled around. This occurred despite being the smallest 3A school in the state.
Capital, the only school in the classification with under 1,000 students, was the runner-up in the 2A classification last year. The bump up in class proved little in slowing the Cougars down as they swept their way into the championship round by defeating Lakeside of Seattle (25-21, 25-20, 28-26) in the semifinals.
“Going from 2A to being the smallest 3A school, we knew we had our work cut out for us,” Capital coach Natalie Rhodes said. “We also knew we had the talent to get there. This was the fourth straight trip to the state tournament for the seniors. So the experience was there. We knew we had this in us.”
Rhodes, a 1996 Capital graduate, has now been a part of the program’s four most successful seasons — two as a player and two as a coach.
Rhodes played for the Cougars when they finished fourth at state in 1993 and second in 1994.
“One of the goals as a coach was to make the program better than when I was here,” said Rhodes, who was quick to concede the last two seasons trumped her playing years. “We just want to continue to build on this success.”
NORTH THURSTON TAKES 7TH
North Thurston began the Class 3A state volleyball tournament a touch wide-eyed, but whatever bewilderment was there early on had certainly subsided at the end.
Powered by the play of Katie Sisson, the Rams took home the seventh-place trophy with a straight sets victory over Seattle Prep at Saint Martin’s University’s Marcus Pavilion on Saturday.
The sets were 25-16, 25-20, 25-20.
“We definitely had plenty of jitters at the start,” said North Thurston coach Jackie Meyer, whose team was knocked into the losers-out bracket following a 3-0 loss to Southridge in the first round, “but this team pushed through. We have five seniors who didn’t want this season to end. They wanted to play together as long as they could.”
One of those seniors was Sisson, who at times simply took over the match, overwhelming the Panthers with equal parts kills and timely aces.
“We were down after that first loss (to Southridge), but we decided to put it behind us and go out and dominate,” Sisson said. “Just go all out.”
Sisson and her fellow seniors conclude their high school careers with a pair of trophies as the Rams also finish second in state two years ago.
“I’m just very excited for this group, especially the seniors,” said Meyer, whose team needed five sets to put away Edmonds-Woodway earlier in the day to advance to the trophy round. “They would not give up.”
North Thurston opened the first set with an ace from Kailey Losey, but the Rams soon found themselves trailing 7-5 before an Annie Koehler block kick started a 10-1 run for North Thurston.
Sisson had five kills with the last two giving the Rams the 25-10 win.
Sisson parlayed her strong play over to the second set, increasing North Thurston’s lead to 9-5 with yet another kill then ended the set at 25-20 with back-to-back aces.
Sisson registered consecutive kills in the third set, pushing the Rams advantage to 23-16 and capping a 9-2 run for North Thurston.
Olivia Fairchild had the honors of closing things out and the sophomore delivered, slamming down a kill to give the Rams the win, 25-20.
“This group just loves playing together,” Meyer said. “I bet if we scheduled a game tomorrow morning, they’d be up for it.”
Columbia River 3, Lakeside (Seattle) 2: The Chieftains rebounded nicely from their defeat in the semifinals by knocking off the Lions, 25-19, 13-25, 25-22, 25-23.
Mercer Island 3, Southridge 0: The Islanders, last year’s state champions, failed in their attempt to defend their crown, but still left Lacey with some hardware for a third consecutive season following their sweep of the Suns (27-25, 27-25, 25-19). Mercer Island won last year’s title, defeating Holy Names in the championship match, and also claimed seventh-place two seasons ago.