Sports

Comeback kids win in five sets against Coupeville, Cedarcrest

Linden Firethorne scores one of her team-high 15 kills against Cedarcrest on Thursday night. She played through a cracked rib and helped South Whidbey rally from being down two sets to win the match and remain undefeated.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Linden Firethorne scores one of her team-high 15 kills against Cedarcrest on Thursday night. She played through a cracked rib and helped South Whidbey rally from being down two sets to win the match and remain undefeated.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

DUVALL — South Whidbey’s volleyball team rallied for the third straight match to beat Cedarcrest 3-2, a similar outcome of its victory against Coupeville earlier this week.

The Falcons won the final three sets in front of a rowdy crowd at Cedarcrest High School on Thursday. Senior hitter Linden Firethorne again played through a cracked rib to lead the Falcons with 15 kills, seven blocks and seven aces.

“I feel like I wasn’t really on, but the rest of the team really pulled through,” Firethorne said.

“I’m done winning in five (games), we need to pick it up in the beginning,” she added.

The 90-minute match could have ended much earlier, had South Whidbey maintained its lead in the first set. Red Wolves head coach Brandon Jones called the first timeout after the Falcons soared to a 7-1 lead. South Whidbey continued to keep Cedarcrest at bay — 10-5, 12-7, 15-9, 18-11 — until losing the lead 20-21, at which point Falcons head coach Mandy Jones called a timeout.

“We had a six point lead and then we were just getting beat on defense,” she said. Our offense was good, but Cedarcrest’s defense was better.”

The Falcons didn’t score another point in the first set and the Red Wolves claimed the opening set 25-20.

Explanations for what happened to the Falcons were hard to come by.

“Honestly, I have no idea,” Firethorne said. “We were good, and we were good and then all of a sudden we shanked one pass and it was downhill from there.”

That loss sent the Falcons into a tailspin for the second set. There was some fight as the teams matched points early: 6-6; 7-7; 8-8; 9-9.

Then the Red Wolves kept the lead and extended it to a 25-18 win, pushing South Whidbey to the brink of elimination.

“I had to keep my mouth shut that second set because I was so disappointed,” Jones added. “What’s that saying, ‘Better to say nothing at all.’”

“I just told them, ‘You go figure it out, because you aren’t listening to me.’”

The hands-off approach worked, although a bit later than Jones hoped.

Victory was nigh for Cedarcrest, which stifled South Whidbey’s offense early in the third set. The Red Wolves had an 8-3 lead when South Whidbey called a timeout and the seniors spoke up.

“We were just saying we need to pick up our passing,” Firethorne said. “We knew we weren’t going to let another one get under their belt.”

Methodically the Falcons chipped away at the Red Wolves’ lead.

Falcons junior hitter Hannah Calderwood scored on a block: 5-11. Senior setter Emily Houck blocked a shot: 6-11. Senior hitter Molly Rawls scored two aces: 9-11.

“That third set I told them, ‘We’re starting over. We’re going to play the way we know how to play and we’re going to win,’” Jones said.

Cedarcrest called a timeout to refocus, but it didn’t slow the Falcons’ furious comeback. Calderwood scored another block to bring the game within one point at 10-11. Rawls’ service error stunted the surge only a moment, as the Falcons regained the serve on a Cedarcrest error.

“It didn’t need to be as hard as it was,” Firethorne said. “We beat ourselves up.”

Falcons senior libero Brittany Wood aced two serves to take the lead for the first time since the first point of the set.

The teams traded points like that until an ace from Falcons junior hitter Ally Chapman gave South Whidbey a 16-15 lead.

Firethorne dominated from there. Rawls and her combined for a block; she scored on a deep pass; she tallied a kill; she served two aces and put the Falcons ahead 21-17.

A questionable service call from the referee took away an ace by Rawls and awarded a point to Cedarcrest, cutting South Whidbey’s lead to 23-21 instead of 24-20.

A veteran South Whidbey squad played past the calls and Rawls recovered for a kill on a long rally and Wood aced to keep the Falcons playing.

“I never expect it to go this long,” Jones said. “It seems we don’t really wake up until the third game.”

Momentum swung in South Whidbey’s favor in the fourth set. Chapman’s ace gave the Falcons the lead at 3-2 which they extended to a 25-20 victory, forcing a fifth set.

By the deciding set, Cedarcrest’s enthusiasm was barely recognizable. Houck’s serve into the net gave Cedarcrest its only lead in the final set.

Red Wolves outside hitter Maggie Gronberg served into the net, sparking a run of five points from errors to put the Falcons on top 5-1. After winning a point on a Falcons’ error, the Red Wolves returned the favor with three more mistakes: a double hit and two passes out of bounds.

Calderwood had a strong series at the net, including blocking a kill then jumping back up for a kill and a 10-2 lead. Firethorne scored three aces and Calderwood claimed the final two points for South Whidbey on a kill and a tip pass to win the final set 15-5.

“The fifth game – we’ve done this so many times – we get out there and it’s just pure adrenaline,” Calderwood said. “It’s just kind of a bad habit for us, I guess. We’re going to get out of it.”

The come-from-behind win was the third in a row for South Whidbey.

Earlier in the week, the Falcons hosted island rivals the Coupeville Wolves.

In the first set on Tuesday, South Whidbey trailed Coupeville from 4-5 until losing 20-25.

The Falcons won the second set 25-23 thanks to a surge of Wolves errors after leading 23-18. Coupeville made eight mistakes in South Whidbey’s last nine points.

Coupeville won the third set 25-20, which sent South Whidbey into a must-win game.

The Wolves had the lead early in the fourth, but Firethorne’s blocks saved the Falcons and tied the game at 14-14. From there, Firethorne and Wood combined for nine points on either aces or kills and South Whidbey’s defense kept Coupeville to three more points.

The fifth set was a point-for-point battle until Wolves junior Bessie Walstad’s pass went long and Wood’s pass was too short for Coupeville to dig, giving South Whidbey a 15-13 win.

“The girls know that they can pull it off when they have fallen behind,” Jones said of both come-from-behind victories. “It sets us up with confidence. I don’t want us to be overconfident.”

South Whidbey hosts an invitational tournament today before facing its toughest challengers, King’s and Archbishop Murphy.

The Knights defeated the Wildcats 3-0 (25-21, 25-18, 25-19) on Thursday to also remain undefeated. It sets up a match between the conference’s only undefeated teams when South Whidbey hosts King’s at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27.

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