YAKIMA — Akin to high school football in Texas, volleyball is mentioned in Eastern Washington in the same reverential manner as family, country and bushels per acre.
Players miss early season practices to help with the harvest; some years, a snow plow precedes the bus on late-season road trips.
Oakesdale suited nine girls in silver and blue for the opening game of the WIAA state championships against Naselle; their star 5-10 outside hitter had just returned from nationals with the Washington High School Rodeo team.
They all proved rawhide tough as the No. 2-ranked 1B team established early momentum in the first and third sets. The Comets just couldn’t catch up the lost points.
In the first set, the Nighthawks had 8 points on the board before Naselle senior Kendra Leeland scored with a kill. Junior Kyryn Jacot made a diving dig during one rally, but Naselle still lost the point.
Junior Ellie Chapman also made a diving dig and then a spectacular point when the ball rolled over the net and hit the court to make it 18-9 to Oakesdale. But the Nighthawks stretched their lead, thanks to some resolute blocking. A good return from senior Haley Footh and a kill by Leeland couldn’t win the set.
In the second set, Amelia Tutu’u tipped the ball over the net to add an early point. Fellow junior Tayler Ford, back from injury, made another clever tip-over to bring the scores closer early on, then made a diving dig. Senior Taylor Eaton blocked well at the net and Chapman served two aces which tied the score at 17-17,
Then Eaton set up Tutu’u for a kill. Leeland tied the scores at 22-22 with a block as her grandmother, Kaye Weimer, at courtside, yelled, “One more! One more!”
The set ended 26-24 after long rallies that Naselle lost.
The third saw Oakesdale score nine points before Naselle responded. Tutu’u and Eaton combined well to get a difficult ball back over the net, then Chapman leaped for a decisive kill and punched the air with joy.
The Nighthawks gathered momentum, though, and added to their points. Leeland replied with a kill and a cleverly placed soft shot that hit the floor. Eaton served an ace to bring the Comets up to 10, but it was their last point earned in the first-round game.
Head Coach Kim Eaton said her players could not replicate their league and district form. “They were not able to show how they are capable of playing,” she said. “We spent a lot of time on our heels playing defense and we didn’t play a lot of our offense.
The consolation bracket game followed with Naselle playing Neah Bay, a team that had lost to Sunnyside Christian in three close sets.
The Neah Bay Red Devils took an 11-1 lead in the first set before Naselle came back with solid work at the net by Tutu’u and an ace by Ford. Footh had a kill and an ace to add points and junior Ashley Muessig blasted a ball over the net which Neah Bay could not return. Two kills by Chapman and one full-length diving dig brought the score to 20-18. Naselle added points with Eaton serving an ace. The Comets were briefly ahead, then tied at 24-24 until they lost a long rally then hit a kill attempt into the net.
The Comets led in the early stages of the second set, went behind and caught up, thanks in part to an ace by Jacot. A good combination play between Eaton and Chapman put them ahead 15-16, and the score went back and forth. The Comets’ best play of the tournament was next with Leeland rescuing the ball from the back court to Eaton who set it up for Tutu’u to hit the ball over to make the score 22-19 in their favor. However, the Red Devils regrouped with some good blocking and a missed Comet serve gave them the set.
The third began promisingly with an ace served by senior Emma Fauver. The teams traded points and the lead all the way up to 18-18 when a couple of Comet players’ returns bounced out. Leeland made a kill to reduce the deficit to 23-21 and Eaton’s next serve earned a point when Neah Bay could not return it. A lost opportunity gave the ball back to the Red Devils for match point and a diving effort by Leeland could not return the ball.
Assistant Coach Marie Green said playing at state capped an excellent season for Naselle Varsity and JV teams. “This year has been great for the girls and the whole program,” she said. “We had a standout group of young women play at both levels and it was amazing to see the transformation in all the players.
“The varsity team had a brilliant season. Granted it didn’t end the way we would have liked, but to be both League and District champions is still quite the accomplishment. Those memories and experiences will stay with the girls.”
After beating Naselle, Oakesdale breezed to the final and defeated Pomeroy, the defending champions, 22-25, 25-19, 25-16, 25-22. Since the 1B division was created 10 years ago, the two teams have been champions six times. The Oakesdale coach, McKinzie Turney, was a player for Pomeroy coach Jim Greene.
Three Rivers Christian of Longview, which Naselle beat to win the District IV championship trophy a week earlier, had a similar Friday the Thirteenth. The Eagles lost to Almira Coulee Hartine (the fifth-place team) and Quilcene (seventh), both in three sets.