Errors stymie South Whidbey against Archbishop

Meagan Longdon, a sophomore setter, passes to the front court against Archbishop Murphy on Thursday as teammate junior hitter Hannah Calderwood positions herself to the net. South Whidbey cruised in the first set, but communication deteriorated and passing and setting suffered in the next three games.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Meagan Longdon, a sophomore setter, passes to the front court against Archbishop Murphy on Thursday as teammate junior hitter Hannah Calderwood positions herself to the net. South Whidbey cruised in the first set, but communication deteriorated and passing and setting suffered in the next three games.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

EVERETT — A hot start and a cold finish against Archbishop Murphy put South Whidbey in second place in Cascade Conference matches.

The Wildcats seized every opportunity and pounced on every error South Whidbey made, rallying from losing the first set 13-25 to win the next three 25-15, 25-19 and 25-13.

“We need to win in three (sets) and be done,” said Falcon senior co-captain and libero Brittany Wood.

South Whidbey took the lead at 4-3 on senior Linden Firethorne’s kill and rolled from there. Wildcat head coach Jeff Curtis called the first time out after the Falcons scored their sixth point in a row to lead 11-5. His next time out was after another Firethorne kill at 21-9, but the Falcons cruised from there behind an ace by Wood and yet another Firethorne kill (15 kills, seven blocks).

“We came out on fire,” said Falcon head coach Mandy Jones. “Everything was on that first game. We were passing the ball, we were capitalizing on their mistakes. We had a really good run.”

Prior to the loss on Thursday, South Whidbey had lost the first set in its previous four matches.

Jones changed the season-long lineup and moved Wood from libero to hitter. She played senior Justina Mackie-Timmerman at libero for the first three sets. The switch allowed Wood to rotate to the front once Firethorne was subbed out, and Wood scored two kills, an ace and had nine digs.

“When Linden’s in our front row we have an offense for the most part,” Wood said.

Energy was high for South Whidbey. Momentum was on its side. Players yelled, “mine,” as they positioned to pass or set. Then they would gather for a celebration.

“We were excited,” Wood said. “We beat Archbishop; that’s something we haven’t done in a long time.”

And then something changed.

Wildcat senior setter Alex Flake aced to open the second set. Her teammate Beth Carlson, a middle hitter, scored a kill. Wood’s kill went into the net then Flake scored another ace, this one between two Falcons, to put Archbishop Murphy at a 4-0 lead it maintained through the set.

“We started off with some bad passing and fell behind a little bit and couldn’t get the momentum back,” Jones said.

“Everyone was mentally defeated.”

The Falcons committed nine unforced errors in the second set. The Wildcats won that set by 10 points.

Poor setting and passing, mis-hits and miscommunication were sprinkled throughout the set, but South Whidbey’s errors were ill-timed with a string of Wildcat kills, tips and aces as the home team extended its lead.

“We couldn’t pass the ball for our lives the second game,” Wood said. “I’m not sure what that was.”

Fight remained in the Falcons, and it showed in the third set.

South Whidbey trailed 11-21 and was kept more than four points from a tie since 9-13. A furious run near the end of the set saw the Falcons reduce a 10-point deficit to 16-24; 17-24; 18-24; and 19-24, until a net violation by Firethorne ended the set in Archbishop Murphy’s favor.

By the third set, frustration mounted as more miscommunication caused errors by South Whidbey. The second- and third-place Cascade Conference teams traded points in the fourth and final set early, but every opportunity South Whidbey had, it gave away.

“People stop talking,” Wood said. “You tell them to talk and they just don’t. It’s all in their head.”

The Wildcats won the first two points on consecutive Falcon hits into the net. South Whidbey gained the serve on a long kill by Marvin that went out. Falcon senior setter Emily Houck aced to tie at 2-2, then hit a kill long and out to lose the lead.

A few points later, Firethorne hit a booming kill past three Wildcats and into the corner to tie the set 5-5. Then she served into the net.

“We couldn’t make great plays all around,” Jones said. “We’d make a great dig, then it would fizzle.”

That was as close as the last set would be, as Archbishop Murphy capitalized on 13 Falcon errors and won 25-13.

“We have the ability to beat any of the teams in our conference,” Wood said. “We know that we can beat them.”

Hard lessons were learned from the loss for South Whidbey. Jones called a team meeting on the bus ride back to Langley and had everyone admit their mistakes during that game, one by one.

“Then we all said, ‘You’re forgiven,’” Jones said.

“Everyone learned some valuable lessons from that match, coaches included.”

Her mistake, Jones said, was changing the lineup after the first set. Finding answers and explanations for South Whidbey’s litany of errors was difficult, even for the coach.

“I’m still trying to figure it out,” Jones said. “I asked them, ‘What happened?’ They came back with the excuse that they were frustrated.”

“That’s the tough thing about volleyball — it’s so mental. I can’t get in their brains and think for them.”

Halfway through the season, King’s leads the conference as an undefeated team at 7-0. Archbishop Murphy is second at 6-1, and South Whidbey is in third place at 5-2.

Next week, the second half begins as South Whidbey will hope to repeat its success to qualify for the district tournament.

“Being consistent is all it is,” Wood said. “We need to play hard the first game, win it and then stay in that consistency.”

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