Naselle 3-1, 7th in state

The Naselle Comets showed off their trophy for joining the elite ranks of Washington state volleyball programs after winning three of four games at the Yakima tournament. Team members, top row left to right: Hannah Higginbotham, Hollie Haataia, Kylee Tarabochia, Peyton Dalton, Jackie Steenerson, Holly Disch, Hailey Weston, Kenzie Glenn, Taylor Gudmundsen, Lily Harman, Rebekah Wirkkala. Bottom row: Ellie Miller, Echo Cenci, Emma Colombo, Sophie Scrabeck, Courtney Paul. Rob Dalton in white on the right. Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association representatives are pictured flanking on far left and right.

YAKIMA — For the second time in three years, the Naselle Comets volleyball team took seventh place by going 3-1 at the State 1B tournament at the Sun Dome in Yakima. On Thursday, Nov. 8, Naselle opened with a loss to Selkirk, then beat Concordia Christian. On Friday Naselle beat Neah Bay and Tacoma Baptist.

The Selkirk Rangers, from Ione in the northeast corner of the state, went 12-1 in District play during the regular season and would finish fourth at Yakima. They took on the Comets just before noon Thursday.

Naselle got off to a rough start, missing with several dig and hit attempts, to quickly fall behind 18-5, on their way to a 25-12 first-set loss.

The Comets had chances to tie the match in the second set.

After they trailed 2-0, Holly Disch put Naselle ahead with a pair of kills, and hit from a tough angle around the pole all the way to the opposite corner for another point to go up 4-2. After a diving stop by Sophie Scrabeck, Kylee Tarabochia chased down the next hit over and fed Disch to make it 8-2, a lead Naselle would extend to 10-3.

Once Selkirk got the serve back, they regained control as Naselle struggled with returns; the Rangers went ahead 12-11. Disch’s reach-over spike put the Comets back up 15-14. Disch forced two defenders to collide on another hard hit, stretching the lead. Kenzie Glenn spiked a serve return, and a Selkirk hold on the next play made it 22-18 Comets.

Selkirk star Whitney Dawson slammed a hit around front-row blockers to cut it to 23-21, setting up a tight finish. Disch slammed one from the back row on a free ball to set up game point at 24-22. Jenna Couch turned back a tough hit by Scrabeck, hitting it to the corner for a Selkirk point and a 24-24 tie. Despite a tough dig from Disch, Selkirk won the next point to go up 25-24. Disch answered with another hard hit from the back row that was missed by the Selkirk front court, tying it back up at 25. Glenn had the next point won at the net, but a net violation instead put the Rangers up 26-25. On Selkirk’s game point, Taylor Gudmundsen made a long run to get off a pass on second contact, but Naselle couldn’t quite get it over the net. Selkirk won the set 27-25 to go ahead 2-0.

Naselle again took leads in the third set. Disch pushed one to the back end, sending the defender backpedaling and missing for a Naselle point, then followed with a low line drive serve for an ace to go up 6-5. Hollie Haataia’s spike made it 9-7. Gudmundsen landed a setter dump along the sideline for a 14-10 lead, then led Disch right to the net for an easy kill to go up 15-11.

Selkirk answered with five straight points. Disch tied it at 19 with a very hard hit cross-court for a kill. But some Comet hits into the net helped Selkirk pull away to take the set, clinching the 25-12, 27-25, 25-22 win.

“We started to play too late,” Comet coach Rebekah Wirkkala said. “They (Selkirk) are good. They controlled the ball and placed it where they wanted it.”

The loss knocked Naselle into the consolation brackets, setting them up for a Thursday evening match against the Tacoma-based Concordia Christian Hawks, who went 8-6 in the regular season before advancing out of Districts with two wins in four games. Concordia had lost its first-round match to Puget Sound Adventist.

Naselle was quickly able to set up the plays it wanted against the Hawks. Disch slammed a kill on third contact of the opening serve return. On the second point, Concordia returned serve and the Comets immediately went back to Disch, who came through again with a hard hit off the hands of a Hawk defender. The Comets won the next two points at the net and soon extended the lead to 10-0, with Tarabochia serving nine straight points. Naselle went on to take the set 25-10.

Naselle fell behind 22-12 in the second set, then answered with a 6-0 run as Gudmundsen’s serving and Disch’s hitting gave the Hawks trouble. But Concordia won the set 25-19, tying the match at one.

Naselle trailed the third set 6-4 before a big kill by Scrabeck. Leaping and hanging in the air, she directed the ball to the returner’s outside near the sideline, pounding it off her hands for the kill to start a 4-0 run. Scrabeck hit one off a blocker’s hands and into a back-row gap for a 10-9 lead.

The Comets started picking holes in the Hawk defense. Gudmundsen found a big opening in the middle with a setter dump and a 14-11 lead. Haataia exploited a similar gap, guiding the ball on second contact to the middle and off the returner’s hands. Haataia’s spike of a serve return made it 19-11 Comets. Glenn, moving to her left, guided the ball the opposite way to the sideline to go up 23-12. Disch finished the set off with a kill for a 25-14 win, putting Naselle up 2-1.

Naselle fell behind 5-0 and 16-9 in the fourth, but Jackie Steenerson won a point at the net to start a 7-1 run. On a behind-the-back feed from Gudmundsen, Disch pounded a kill for Naselle’s first lead of the set at 20-19. Scrabeck served two straight aces to close out the match, clinching the 25-10, 19-25, 25-14, 25-22 victory to keep the season going.

Awaiting Naselle on Friday morning were the Neah Bay Red Devils, who were 9-4 in the regular season. On Thursday, Neah Bay had lost to Pateros and beaten Sunnyside Christian. Good streaks of serving by Hailey Weston and Gudmundsen helped Naselle to lopsided wins in the first two sets, and an emphatic kill by Disch finished off the 25-17, 25-13, 26-24 victory.

In the first set, Weston served nine straight points to help the Comets to a 19-9 lead, repeatedly giving returners trouble.

“She would send a hard serve over, and if they returned it they would send a free ball back,” Gudmundsen said.

Gudmundsen finished the set off with a high, arcing hit right to the back line; the Devils let it go, completing the 25-17 Comet win.

In the second set, Glenn’s well-placed mid-court kill gave Naselle a 5-2 lead and got the serve to Gudmundsen, who helped the Comets to twelve straight points. Neah Bay had trouble passing her serves, repeatedly sending the ball into the net. On one that they did return, Disch smashed it right back high off the libero’s hand for the point.

“I had been struggling with my serves lately,” Gudmundsen said. “I was so scared I would miss. I went with a standing serve, not a jump serve. I tried not to get it too high; to send flat serves that travel a lot. Those can be tough to read.”

Her knuckleball-like serves helped put Naselle up 17-2. The Comets would go on to take the set 25-13 for a 2-0 lead.

Neah Bay won some points at the net in the third set, coming back from behind 6-1 to take a 19-16 lead. Scrabeck guided a hit from the right side to the middle. Gudmundsen flew out of bounds for the ball and got off a pass to Weston, who got it over two blockers for a kill that tied it at 20. Gudmundsen saved another point on a diving stop to the middle, leading to a tie at 23. Glenn hit through another double-block and in front of a dive in the back row to put Naselle up 24-23. On match point at 25-24, Disch got a short-range set from Gudmundsen near the left pole and crushed it past blockers to clinch the match.

“I knew it would be a great set. The pass took (Taylor) right toward me, and she usually goes for a quick back set,” Disch said. “I saw a blocker on the right side…I hit it around the blocker.”

“I got a really good pass, Holly was right there and the defense was all set (up),” Gudmundsen said.

Naselle played the Tacoma Baptist Crusaders for seventh place in State Friday afternoon.

With the Comets ahead 15-12, Glenn got on a hot streak. She launched a low line-drive kill, then followed with a shot to the defender’s outside and off her fist. Next point, Scrabeck dove to her side to make a stop, and Disch chased her pass out of bounds and bumped it over the net, leading to a Comet point. Glenn’s spike made it 20-12 Naselle.

After two straight Crusader points, Gudmundsen won at the net, leaping and tapping it high off the finger tips of the blocker who was bearing down on her. Scrabeck plunked one right in a mid-court opening to close out the 25-15 first set win.

Naselle trailed the second set 19-17 when Glenn smashed a kill off the hands of the middle back row defender. Disch landed a serve down the sideline for an ace, followed with another ace to the back corner, then served in front of a mid-court dive for a three-point lead. Naselle went on to take the set 25-20.

In the third, Scrabeck put Naselle ahead 8-4 with a perfectly-placed cross-court kill to the back corner. After that, a series of serves by Glenn, including three aces, gave the Crusaders difficulty as the Comets stretched the lead to 15-4.

At 23-14, Glenn made a spike attempt that went over and down off the top of the net. A defender got to it but couldn’t dig it off the floor, putting the Comets a point away from victory. Tacoma Baptist failed to return the subsequent serve, missing short on a long bump attempt. That clinched it for the Comets, making them the seventh-place 1B team in the State.

The Columbia Valley League had two teams place: Naselle and Firm Foundation, which took fifth. Oakesdale won the tournament with a victory over Almira-Coulee-Hartline.

The previous time the Comets went to State, in 2016, they also finished seventh. That was when Gudmundsen was a rising sophomore, setting for a group of hitters that included league MVP Ellie Chapman. This year’s team relied heavily on Gudmundsen and her senior classmates, who through countless repetitions have developed intuitive chemistry.

“This year we had a bigger group of seniors,” Wirkkala noted. “We’re up a level in terms of our rhythm, the speed of our offense.” That kept the Comets a beat ahead of their last three opponents at State.

Lily Harman, who is part of that senior class and was a major contributor during the 2016 run, urged her team on while watching from the bench on crutches due to an early-season ACL tear.

“It was sad for me not being able to play, but I was proud of the team for persevering,” Harman said. “Getting seventh was a big win for us… I was proud of my girls, especially all my seniors.”

This year’s finish “was a good achievement for our program,” Gudmundsen said. “We’ve set the standards higher for the future.”

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