This wasn’t in the Toyota Center in Kennewick. And there was no 4A state title on the line.
But for a night, it almost felt like the West Central/Southwest bidistrict volleyball tournament at Kentwood High School might as well have been for state trophies.
It ended with second-ranked Auburn Riverside edging No. 4 Bellarmine Prep 17-25, 25-23, 25-21, 19-25, 15-13 on Saturday for the bidistrict title, with the Ravens earning a top seed to next weekend’s state tournament.
But Auburn Riverside coach Chris Leverenz said this felt just like a state title match.
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“It was intense,” Leverenz said. “Sometimes you get into a match and you go, ‘I feel comfortable.’ I never felt comfortable. It felt like it was a state championship for sure. Definitely the best game we’ve played all year against the best competition.”
Both Leverenz and Bellarmine coach Caroline Meines would know.
Auburn Riverside won the 3A state title two years ago, the same year Bellarmine won the 4A title.
Many wondered what might have been had those two teams matched up that year.
But better late than never. And instead of Carson Heilborn, who is now at the University of New Mexico, leading the Ravens to the state title in 2014, it is little sister Calley Heilborn leading this year’s team.
Calley Heilborn had six kills in the fifth set and the match-clinching block.
“It’s just incredible,” Heilborn said of the win. “Just like a fairytale. I love it.”
She stopped and took a deep breath after her kill made it 14-13.
“We were all so very jumpy,” Heilborn said. “So everyone was just like, ‘We need to calm down, and that’s how we’re going to win.’”
That was a stark contrast to the first set, when Bellarmine won, 25-17, and Auburn Riverside lacked energy.
Call that first set a wake-up call. The Ravens jumped to a 10-3 lead the second set on their way to the 25-23 win and then win the third set, 25-21.
“We were a little flat,” Leverenz said. “They are pretty good friends with a couple of the girls over there. I said to my kids, ‘You’re kind of laughing at your friends and your teammates. You got to fire it up and don’t let that happen because that’s a distraction.’”
And Leverenz credited their bench with producing some energy, too.
“I just like these kids,” Leverenz said. “I’m sure every coach says this, but these kids are really fun. … They play sometimes out of their own heads. They play out of their skill level because of their gut and their heart.”
Bellarmine Prep bounced back in the fourth set, rallying from an early deficit to send the match to the fifth and final set.
Hannah Pukis had 37 assists, 19 digs and 11 kills for the Lions, McKenzie Schwan had 23 kills and Clair McCarthy had 26 digs.
Auburn Riverside led by as much 10-6 in the final set before Bellarmine tied it at 13-13 following back-to-back kills from Pukis, who is committed to Washington State University, and Schwan, whose sister, Courtney, is at UW and was on that Bellarmine title team two years ago.
Then Heilborn finished it.
Bellarmine takes the No. 2 seed from the district into state next weekend.
But Meines, too, said this felt like a state title match.
“Except for the venue,” she said. “Especially against a team that is exposing some of your weaknesses. Each team had their moments where you go, ‘Oh, they got it.’
“Getting second is never fun. But we are fortunate to get the chance to get the title they really want next weekend.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
ON TO STATE
South Sound schools that clinched berths to their respective state volleyball tournaments.
1. Auburn Riverside
2. Bellarmine Prep
7. Auburn Mountainview
1. Gig Harbor
4. North Thurston
1. Charles Wright
2. Cascade Christian