YAKIMA — Volleyball is about skill, will and momentum.

Naselle demonstrated all three at the WIAA state tournament.

The Comets came home with the fifth-place trophy after three wins and one loss. Their only defeat was to eventual 1B champions Oakesdale.

It was a tournament defined by two “moments.”

Win, loss

The story of state was determined by a bracket that positioned the Comets as the eighth seed after a successful season and one loss to Mossyrock at District.

In the first match against Pomeroy, Naselle won 25-20, 25-16, 25-12. The Pirates have been 1B champions multiple times, but this year only qualified for state by placing fourth in their district.

One play stood out. At 17-12 in the second set, a Pomeroy return looked to be soaring into paydirt in the back court. Somehow libero Brynn Tarabochia dug it up and senior Echo Cenci cleverly found time to shape her body to return it skillfully over the net.

The three-set sweep advanced Naselle to play Oakesdale.

The Nighthawks took the first set 25-16, after a tussle that saw junior Kaylin Shrives serve an ace to tie the scores at 14-14, junior Delaney Kragerud had a kill, and on one play three Naselle players ended flat on the floor trying for a dig.

Naselle evened the score with a 26-24 win amid a tense end to the set which saw Cenci serve an ace and Shrives nail two kills.

Six points

Shouts of “Comet Power!” reverberated through the SunDome as the Nighthawks fumbled to put Naselle one point from winning the set.

It was the first “moment.”

But perennial champions Oakesdale won SIX consecutive points to bring the score to 24-24. On one play, Shrives hit the ball onto the top of the net — only to watch it roll back into her court. Oakesdale prevailed 29-27.

The eastern Washington team then powered through the fourth to advance 25-15.

“That should have been a semifinal,” said head coach Rebekah Wirkkala, unhappy at the bracket.

She and assistant coaches Hanna Higginbotham and Kayti Updike continued to encourage the team, crucially looking for improvement in serving. “We just need to execute better — but we played really hard,” Wirkkala said as she walked off the court late Thursday. “The girls were still hungry … but whoever won that third set was going to win.”

Control of the action

Friday, the Comets earned their trophy. They won the next two matches — both by five sets and both after going behind. “It was a mental hurdle,” Wirkkala said, describing how her players regrouped. “At state, all bets are off. It’s will and mental toughness — it’s who can put it away.”

Against Neah Bay, Naselle won 25-17, 15-25, 17-25, 25-17, 15-11, coming from 1-2 behind to level the score. “I could tell the shift change against Neah Bay,” Wirkkala said. “It was just controlling what we could control.”

The second tournament “moment” was pure Naselle.

The first set saw the Comets win 25-17, thanks to an ace from captain Peyton Dalton and good blocking from Kragerud. The second saw the Red Devils go on an 11-point run then race to a 25-15 win. The third saw them extend their lead with a 25-17 score, thanks to their talented senior Oceana Aquirre. She was such a commanding presence she even took over from her coach to direct the time-out talks.

Senior Mia Watson, who brought fresh energy off the bench, did win a point with a clever tip-over, a move which Kragerud duplicated twice, but it wasn’t enough.

Look up

It was time for help.

In the break between sets, the players left the bench and trooped over to a metal barrier in front of the NHS fans. There, Brandi Tarabochia, mother of Brynn, led them in a prayer.

Backs to the court, they stood close, motionless, heads bowed.

Fortified, they returned. They went two points down. But then junior Lauren Katyryniuk served back-to-back aces, Kragerud performed well at the net, and Cenci, Shrives and senior Morgan Reitz scored points.

Shrives hit an unstoppable serve and soon the set was won 25-17.

For the finale, Cenci made a diving dig and Shrives tipped the ball over the net. Dalton served well and after a couple of slips, two crafty consecutive tip-over plays by Reitz got them to match point.

Katyrniuk served and the Red Devils’ reply soared back. Dalton screamed to her team mates let it go out. They obeyed.

Afterward, Wirkkala just grinned beneath her mask. “The girls asked if they could go pray with them and I said, ‘Yes, of course!’”

Brandi Tarabochia, who led the Comet cheers, beamed, too. “I tried to pray with them before the game, but I didn’t get a chance,” she explained.

Hardware

In the game for fifth and sixth place. Naselle faced Mary Walker School, from Springdale just north of Spokane.

The pattern of sets was identical to the Neah Bay game. As Naselle charged to a 25-20 win, Cenci, Dalton and Shrives combined for a dig, set and kill that would make any highlight reel. In the next, Katyryniuk scored a point with an overhead return facing away from the net. But the Chargers won the set 25-21 to tie the scores. In the third, Shrives replicated Katyryniuk’s clever shot and Kragerud started to take charge at the net, but the Red Devils won 25-20. Next, Reitz stepped up with some big plays to power Naselle to 25-21.

In the last set, momentum took over. Shrives had an ace, Cenci a good return, and Reitz a kill so close to the line that it that had everyone looking at the official’s flag.

Reitz made a block and Kragerud rolled the ball over the net. A kill from Shrives set up match point. When their opponents couldn’t return the ball, it was 15-11.

Naselle’s season was over with a whoop and a smile.

Seniors

After the trophy presentation photos came reflections. “We are all exhausted, but we worked together as a team,” junior Tarabochia said.

Wirkkala reflected on the contribution of her four seniors.

Reitz slotted into the front line and was an imposing presence at 5-10. “She is why we are able to do so well in defense” Wirkkala said. Her serving at the end was consistent and she had good timing for the blocks.”

An ACL injury to junior Bella Colombo — who cheered mightily on crutches from the bench — meant Cenci stepped into a starting role. She has demonstrated speed on the NHS track team; at Yakima she was jumping high for kills, diving for digs. “We pushed her,” Wirkkala said. “We knew that she was this player — she can be a little spark plug.”

Watson contributed greatly, said the coach. “Mia, she’s very positive all the time. She’s very powerful, serving and hitting.”

Dalton has served the program since eighth grade. “Her consistency, her work ethic, her focus,” the coach said, numbering off her contributions. “She will do whatever is best for the team.”

But the captain wanted to share the credit. “I am really grateful — we overcame so much,” Dalton said. “I couldn’t ask for a better team.”

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