YAKIMA — Naselle drew an elite first-round opponent, a first-time participant, and a league rival in a 1-2 performance at the State volleyball tournament Thursday and Friday, Nov. 14 and 15.

Naselle lost to eventual runner-up Pomeroy, beat Grace Academy, then lost a District-semifinal rematch against Firm Foundation.

Pomeroy

The Pomeroy Pirates, from the far southeast corner of Washington state, tied for the Southeast league title with Oakesdale, who would go on to beat them in five sets in State finals. Their march to the State title game began against Naselle Thursday morning.

Though the Comets were on the cusp of winning the third set, Pomeroy came away with the sweep, winning 25-21, 25-11, 27-25.

Star Maddy Dixon showed her power early, slamming down a kill on serve-return that tied the opening set at 2-2. Sydney Watko added an overpowering kill on serve-return midway through the set, and Pomeroy jumped out to a 21-13 lead.

Jackie Steenerson kept Naselle in it, using her velocity to challenge Pomeroy blockers, forcing several errors. She added a spinning-in-the-air kill, guiding the ball to a mid-court gap. Hollie Haataia added a kill of her own through a blocker, then nailed a gap to cut it to 24-21. Dixon answered with an undiggable shot through a double-block to clinch the first set.

Pomeroy was in elite form in the second set. The Comets’ defense was regularly forced into emergency mode. The Naselle offense made errors trying to find tight windows in a Pirate defense that seemed to have the whole court covered at times. The Pirates took the second set 25-11.

The Comets tried to match Pomeroy’s level of play. Emma Colombo made a diving stop of Dixon, only for Dixon to send over a completely undiggable shot to the back corner the next ball over. Echo Cenci got a ball over on a desperate dig out of the net, but Pomeroy slammed it down the sideline and take the point, going up 5-2 in the third. Echo Cenci got a kill through the hands of two blockers and another off the fingertips of a net defender, then later just missed when aiming for a very tight window on the sideline, putting Pomeroy up 13-6.

Cenci then helped Naselle get a comeback going, serving three straight aces to cut the third-set lead to 13-10. Hollie Haataia softened the defense with a big hit, then nailed the return shot to a gap to cut it to 14-13. Colombo had back-to-back aces for a 17-15 Naselle lead.

A pair of big hits by Dixon tied it. But Steenerson got on a roll, going at Pomeroy’s blockers and winning. She hit one through a defender’s hands, then tipped the return shot for a kill and a 23-20 lead.

“We started getting an understanding of where to hit it, where to tip it,” Steenerson said. “(We wanted) to get their setter out of (the play.)”

Naselle had set point at 24-21, but Comet misplays led to a 26-25 Pomeroy lead. On match point, Peyton Dalton made a big leap to block a shot at the net, but it went off her hands and out to complete the Pirate victory.

“There were times when we were on our A game, but not all the way throughout,” Haataia said. “That second set really did us in.”

Grace Academy

The Grace Academy Eagles from Marysville, 9-12 in the regular season, reached State for the first time on the strength of an upset win over Quilcene at Districts. After losing in five sets in the first round at State to Wilson Creek, they faced Naselle in round two Thursday evening. Grace had a come-from-behind win in the first set, but the Comets took the next three for the 25-27, 25-16, 25-23, 25-19 win.

Naselle led 20-17 after Haataia’s kill to an abandoned corner, and 23-21 after an ace by Brynn Tarabochia. When the Eagles botched another hit by Haataia, the Comets were up 24-22. But the Comets missed with a few passes and hits down the stretch, and Grace Academy’s middle hitter spiked a shot through traffic to close out the 27-25 win, giving the Eagles a 1-0 lead.

“Their serving gave us some trouble,” Naselle coach Rebekah Wirkkala said. “They hit some hard serves, and they served to our seams.”

Steenerson came up big in the second set. She nailed a kill to the back line, took a running leap at Dalton’s behind-the-back pass on serve-return to execute another kill, then won a point at the net for a 6-4 lead.

Haataia followed with a fantastic stop. She made a long run from back-middle to the front sideline, diving and getting it over on third contact, leading to a Naselle point. Dalton made a series of strong reads on defense during a long rally that ended in a Shrives kill for a 13-7 lead.

Steenerson ripped a kill past a drawn-in defender. Next point, after Grace Academy sent over a free ball, Steenerson pounded a shot to the sideline right where defenders where scrambling to get back in position, getting the kill for the 22-16 lead.

Kaylin Shrives pounded a pair of aces to help close the set out, tying the match at one.

Haataia stayed on a roll in the third, scoring a kill on a give-and-go with Dalton and another where she disguised her hit to the sideline and the defender couldn’t read it in time. But the set was close throughout.

With the set tied at 22, Steenerson dove to get a desperate shot over right into a blocker, who then hit it out over a well-positioned defense for a Comet lead. Steenerson closed out the 25-23 win, hitting a hard shot that the defender couldn’t turn around. That put Naselle up two sets to one.

Early aces by Kylee Tarabochia and Kaylin Shrives, and more hard hits by Steenerson, helped Naselle take a 9-2 lead in the fourth. Haataia’s overpowering shot to a sideline opening made it 14-8 and got the serve back to Tarabochia, who gave the Eagles more trouble and stretched it to 18-8. Delaney Kragerud spiked a serve-return to make it 24-14.

The Eagles then survived five straight match points before committing a net violation, which clinched the Comet win.

Firm Foundation

Next up for the Comets was a more familiar Eagles team, Firm Foundation. Firm swept Naselle in the regular season on their way to the Columbia Valley League title but lost to the Comets in District semifinals. The Eagles had lost in five sets to Puget Sound Adventist before beating Shoreline Christian to collide with the Comets for the fourth time this season. Firm Foundation won 25-15, 25-22, 21-25, 25-21 to end the Comets’ State run.

Naselle jumped out to an early lead. Shrives caught the front row shifting way to the right, nailing a shot to a huge opening. She slammed another kill on serve-return for a 6-2 lead.

Firm Foundation star Katie Kogler zipped a shot into a tight window down the sideline for a kill. But on the next point, Steenerson went right at Kogler, who missed out of bounds. Kogler was then forced to send over a free ball, which Haataia spiked back in front of Kogler to make it 8-3.

Naselle extended the lead to 13-6, but Firm Foundation answered with a 19-2 run. Kogler started the rally with some hard hits, and a string of Comet hitting errors allowed the Eagles to pile on.

“We had more errors than they did, even though they sent free ball after free ball,” Wirkkala said.

The Eagles took a 15-7 lead in the second. Naselle tied it at 21 on a tip-kill by Haataia, but Firm won 25-22.

Kylee Tarabochia caught fire midway through the third set, sending low line drives into gaps for three kills in a span of seven points as Naselle took a 17-15 lead. Tarabochia shortly came up with another kill, tipping the ball from the right side of the net to mid-court; the shot glanced off the top of the net, the Eagles couldn’t read it, and Naselle took a 24-21 lead. Steenerson followed with a kill, hanging in the air and placing her shot between the front and back rows, giving Naselle the 25-21 third-set win.

Trailing 2-1, the Comets looked to force a fifth set. Hard hitting, especially by Steenerson, had them up 14-12. Firm Foundation followed with four straight points, but Haataia slammed a kill to mid-court to regain the lead at 18-17. Steenerson nailed a fade-away kill that Kogler bumped backward, tying it at 20. But Firm Foundation scored five of the final six points to close out the match.

The Comets, a young team this year, will lose Steenerson and Zanith Wulf to graduation but got major contributions from freshmen such as Brynn Tarabochia, Shrives and Delaney Kragerud in Yakima.

“Delaney was amazing this tournament,” Wirkkala said. “She showed she’s ready for next year.”

The top four teams in Yakima (Odessa, Pomeroy, Almira-Coulee-Hartline, and champion Oakesdale) were from the east side of the state. Three teams from the Comets’ CVL were at State. Three Rivers Christian, like Naselle, went 1-2. Firm Foundation was 3-1 to take seventh place.

Aaron Mead is a sports writer for the Chinook Observer. Contact him at 360-642-8181 or aaroncmead@gmail.com.

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