Tournament exposes South Whidbey volleyball team’s lackluster energy

Emily Houck, left, and Linden Firethorne combine for a block against Brewster during pool play on Saturday.   - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Emily Houck, left, and Linden Firethorne combine for a block against Brewster during pool play on Saturday.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — They had home court advantage.

They had the confidence of being 5-0 in conference matches.

They had the thrill of three straight come-from-behind victories, including two on the road.

They had the talent and the leadership of six seniors.

Yet, for everything South Whidbey’s volleyball players had, they lacked energy and enthusiasm during the South Whidbey Invite on Saturday.

“We had it, and then no one was having fun, no one was enjoying playing,” said Falcons senior hitter Linden Firethorne.

South Whidbey finished in 13th place among 16 teams at the tournament. The Falcons junior varsity team took 12th place.

“I think a lot of them are frustrated,” said Falcons head coach Mandy Jones. “The seniors are frustrated that the team doesn’t look like it wants it.”

During the final pool match against Brewster, the typical cheers, stomps and reverberating celebrations from South Whidbey were gone. They were replaced by frustrated looks, monotonous encouragement and brief huddling. Lacking energy for things like celebration concerned the Falcons’ coach.

“I think it came from going to the football game the night before over town and not getting home until late,” Jones continued, “which is fine because I’m all for supporting the other school sports. It just didn’t seem like they were really into it.”

Save for a few ecstatic players such as senior Justina Mackie-Timmerman, the Falcons were far from flying high at their tournament. She screamed support on the court and on the bench, for the big rallies and for the little victories.

South Whidbey began in pool play, where it played two-set matches against three teams.

First the Falcons split with Lynnwood (3-1 in Wesco games), a 3A school that won second place at the tournament, 25-22 and 18-25.

“I thought, ‘This is going to be a great day if we keep this up,’” Jones said.

Hope was soon lost, however, as South Whidbey dropped its next two sets against Lakeside, 16-25 and 20-25.

Then the Falcons split with the Brewster Bears, 26-24 and 22-25.

As the Falcons have done in most of the season’s opening sets, they took a large lead only to see it dwindle.

A block by Firethorne gave South Whidbey a 19-10 lead. Brewster reduced it by a point here, another there, until South Whidbey led 22-15.

Then the offense and the defense disappeared. Brewster scored on a Falcon serving error, a kill, a tip pass, another error, then another error and consecutive net violations to take a 23-22 lead over South Whidbey. Jones called a timeout to regroup her team and stall Brewster’s momentum.

South Whidbey regained serve on a Brewster serving error, then sophomore Mackenzie Hezel scored a block.

Another Falcons error tied the game at 24-24 until sophomore setter Meagan Longdon scored on a pass and a Brewster error won the game for the host team 26-24.

The Falcons won that set, but their slumped shoulders, soft voices and downcast looks made them look like they had just lost to the 2B school.

In the second set against Brewster, South Whidbey lost its edge. The Bears lead 7-6 before they pulled ahead 14-6 and didn’t slow down en route to a 25-22 victory.

The Falcons rallied from nine points down to within two points after senior hitter Jessica Manca scored a kill to trail 23-21. Miscommunication and, at times, lack of communication by the Falcons lost the next two points and the set.

“You can’t get down, because we lose and we win, but there are so many more games,” Firethorne said. “We can’t let that game affect the others. Even though we’re tired and exhausted, we have to push through it.”

Then the Falcons had their chance to transform from lame ducks to tournament darlings during the best-of-three-sets tournament play.

South Whidbey first played against Shoreline Christian, a 2B school with an enrollment of about 65 students.

The second tournament match was against a familiar foe: Sultan. The Falcons beat the Turks 25-10 and 25-21.

The all-day tournament began at 9:15 a.m. and ended after 5 p.m. at the high school. Matches were played as often as one of the four courts was open for 16 teams from Omak to Edmonds-Woodway, which took third place behind first-place Chelan. Extended downtime between matches may have sapped South Whidbey’s energy.

“I think it killed us to have to sit so long between matches,” Jones said.

Firethorne continued her strong play in kills, blocks and aces, despite having a cracked rib. The matches on Saturday may not mean much for the team’s conference or division standing, but she said it was important for her to play anyway.

“They never really said I had to stop playing,” Firethorne said. “I’m taking cough suppressants.”

Practice for South Whidbey on Monday was tough. The girls ran hard and often, Jones said.

She did not meet with the team to discuss their underwhelming performance at the tournament. Instead, she planned to meet with the Falcons during the team dinner prior to Tuesday night’s match against King’s, the only other undefeated Cascade Conference team (5-0).

“I’m not going to chew them out. I’m not going to get down on them,” Jones said. “But, I’m going to try to give them the best pep talk I can.”

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