After seeing multiple playoff runs end fruitlessly in recent seasons, the Tumwater seniors finally have their state championship.
Behind a dominant front line and inspired play from freshman sensation Kennedy Croft, top-ranked Tumwater powered past North Kitsap, 25-21, 25-18, 25-11 in the Class 2A state title match Saturday night at Pierce College.
“That was the best we have ever blocked,” said T-Birds coach Tana Otton, Croft’s mother. “It’s been our weakest point all season long and all of a sudden we decided to start blocking.”
The Thunderbirds, who were forced to finish runners-up at state in 2011 and 2012, racked up five blocks and influenced nearly every play at the net, forcing North Kitsap to shift its attack focus toward the back line and cashing in on easy scoring opportunities.
“This whole week up to state, we’ve been doing a bunch of blocking progressions,” Croft said. “It might not be the funnest thing to do, but it really showed we worked and got better.”
Croft, who displayed remarkable poise under the state title spotlight, produced an excellent all-around performance, finishing with 15 kills, 10 digs and a hitting percentage of .303.
“(Croft) has this presence where I think that setters feel really comfortable giving her the ball,” Otton said. “But what was awesome about tonight in this match was that we didn’t have to lean and rely on her. … it took some pressure off her.”
Tumwater showed none of the fatigue expected of a team coming off two five-set marathons. The Thunderbirds vanquished Archbishop Murphy in five sets to make the semifinals, then defeated state-powerhouse Selah in five more sets to make the state final — both in roughly 14 hours.
Balance was a big part of the T-Birds’ success. The team calmly worked the ball around until it found the floor, hitting .385 as a unit. Mackenzie Bowen, the Evergreen 2A most valuable player, had 11 kills and 25 assists. Senior Madison Bourgois chipped in seven more kills. Sophomore Maddy Pilon delivered 23 assists.
“Every single person contributed,” Otton said. “If you look at those stats, it’s just all the way down the board. Everybody did awesome, I was just so excited to see that.”
The team’s recent postseason history meant Croft had a little extra motivation to deliver a big performance for the Thunderbirds.
“I feel like as a freshman, I’m going to be here the next three years,” she said.
“But I wanted to win it for the seniors, because I know they really wanted it.”