Sports

Firethorne, Houck’s big play leads Falcons to victories

Falcons junior Hayley Newman and senior Linden Firethorne leap to block Tigers senior middle hitter Elizabeth Matalomani, as teammates Mackenzie Hezel (left corner) and Brittany Wood (right)  prepare for a dig. South Whidbey swept Granite Falls 3-0 behind Firethorne’s 15 kills, three blocks, three aces and three digs.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Falcons junior Hayley Newman and senior Linden Firethorne leap to block Tigers senior middle hitter Elizabeth Matalomani, as teammates Mackenzie Hezel (left corner) and Brittany Wood (right) prepare for a dig. South Whidbey swept Granite Falls 3-0 behind Firethorne’s 15 kills, three blocks, three aces and three digs.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — South Whidbey traded its sweet attitude for a sweep sensation this week.

The Falcons beat the Granite Falls Tigers 3-0 (25-21, 25-19, 25-11) for their first three-game victory in almost a month.

“We came out with enthusiasm,” said Falcon senior setter Emily Houck. “This game we came out and were like, ‘We’ve got to do this; we’ve got to do great after those last two losses.’”

Last week, South Whidbey melted like cotton candy, losing 1-3 to both King’s and Archbishop Murphy.

Both games were within the Falcons’ abilities to win. But errors and lethargy combined against conference-leading talent led to the Falcons’ first losing streak of the season.

In the second half of the season, South Whidbey hopes to mirror, if not improve, its record. If the match against Granite Falls is any indication, the Falcons are on the right track.

Brittany Wood, a senior, again played as a hitter from her usual spot as libero. Moving her position didn’t bother Wood, who last season was a second team all-Cascade Conference libero who stayed in the back row to play defense.

“I get to hit more and get to keep the front row pumped up,” Wood said.

Indeed, the Falcons’ co-captain hit more. South Whidbey won the first point on a kill by Wood and kept the lead to win 25-21.

Errors blemished an otherwise easy first set.

“In the first set we had 14 errors,” said Falcon head coach Mandy Jones. “We gave them 14 points.”

Trailing 10-2, Tigers head coach Jenn Coulson called a time out. Wood scored her fourth ace of the set, then mistakes mounted. South Whidbey had five straight errors before senior hitter Linden Firethorne scored on a tip pass.

“We had good talking in the beginning of that first set, good energy,” Jones said. “And then we made four errors in a row and you could just see the energy go down on the court.

“We just needed to get a pass and a good set; there were a few setting errors in there.”

The Tigers pounced on another string of five Falcon errors to cut the lead to two points. That was the closest the Tigers were to the lead as the Falcons pulled away on Firethorne’s kills and Tigers’ errors.

“First-game nerves,” Houck said.

“That’s how I was, so I think that’s how everybody else was, probably. We got more confident and shook off the nerves and worked better as we got into it.”

Errors diminished, though only slightly from 14 to 12 points, in the second set for South Whidbey. The Falcons claimed the lead at the first point on a Tigers’ error and stretched it to a 25-19 victory.

Firethorne had seven of her game-high 15 kills in the set, she also had three aces, three blocks and three digs. Houck led the match with 21 assists and added one kill and one ace.

“We kept in the same rotation, so none of the fire changed,” Wood said. “So the energy and the momentum stayed the same as the first game.”

The third set was led by Wood, when she scored five of her game and season-high 11 aces. She also had three kills and six digs.

Lacking confidence has been a struggle for the Falcons this season, despite being in third place in the conference. Wood’s performance marked a turnaround from the first match against Granite Falls that began the season.

“I couldn’t really hit, but when it came to serving I could make up for my errors in hitting,” Wood said.

Granite Falls went back-and-forth with South Whidbey for the first six points. Then the Falcons pulled ahead at 4-3 and padded it to a 25-11 win.

“I think it’s just confidence and believing that when you serve tough, good things happen,” Jones said. “And Brittany did that tonight.”

Another concern for the Falcons’ coaches was communication on the court, or the lack thereof. Led by seniors Houck, Firethorne, Wood and Justina Mackie-Timmerman calling plays, sets and hits, the chatter was audible from high up on the bleachers.

“During practice we’re louder and more talkative,” Houck said. “We realized it helps us a lot. And when we’re down and don’t talk it just gets us down even more.”

Winning in straight sets was a welcome change for the Falcons.

“Now we’re prepared and we’re ready to go back and beat them again,” Wood said.

So far, so good. The Falcons beat the Turks for the second time this season Thursday at the Sultan High School.

It was a more difficult match than the previous meeting (3-0). The Falcons won 23-25, 25-12, 21-25, 25-17 and 15-12.

Firethorne led with 28 kills and six blocks. Houck and sophomore setter Meagan Longdon established a passing presence with 26 and 20 assists, respectively. Houck added seven kills and five aces and Longdon had four aces. Wood had 14 digs and scored five aces. Hannah Calderwood had a season-high eight kills.

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