Houck, Longdon’s aces rally Falcons to beat Cougars

Falcon senior hitter Linden Firethorne scores a kill against Lakewood’s senior hitter Brittany Parmentier on Tuesday. Falcons sophomore Mackenzie Hezel and senior Molly Rawls cover for a dig.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Falcon senior hitter Linden Firethorne scores a kill against Lakewood’s senior hitter Brittany Parmentier on Tuesday. Falcons sophomore Mackenzie Hezel and senior Molly Rawls cover for a dig.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — If South Whidbey’s volleyball players were old enough to play poker, they would have been kicked out for stacking the deck with so many aces Tuesday night.

The Falcons scored 24 aces and needed every one of them to beat the Lakewood Cougars in a five-set match 3-2.

“I’m hoping it will pay off, if and when we get to districts that going to five sets will pay off somehow,” said Falcon head coach Mandy Jones.

“When we go into five games, I can always tell after the first game if it’s going to happen.”

Two of the conference’s best hitters battled at the net. Falcon senior hitter Linden Firethorne got the better of her Cougar counterpoint with 25 kills, five blocks and six digs. Cougar senior hitter Brittany Parmentier tallied 11 blocks, nine kills and nine digs and dominated the net until South Whidbey changed its defense.

First-year senior Jessica Manca was assigned to stop Parmentier after the first set, and scored a block and two kills in the final set to help the Falcons win a come-from-behind fifth set, 15-9.

“We knew in advance that we needed to take a line with her because she’s a good, strong hitter and hits right down,” Manca said. “Everybody was communicating really well tonight.”

None of Manca’s five blocks or four kills were more important than the ones she scored against Parmentier in the fifth set. The match was tied at two games apiece, and in the fifth set Lakewood led 7-3 until Manca sparked South Whidbey’s rally.

“I knew that we needed that big block,” Jones said. “I wasn’t going to change anything. Jessica was doing great.”

Manca’s kill went off Parmentier’s hands and out of bounds. Sophomore hitter Mackenzie Hezel scored a tip pass between the back row defenders and the net blockers.

Manca scored another kill off Parmentier’s block to tie 7-7.

“It’s like you flip a switch on from kind of off and emotional to playing as hard as you can, going for every single ball,” Manca said.

After trading points to a 9-9 tie, Jones substituted sophomore setter Meagan Longdon to serve for Manca.

It was a bit nerve-wracking for the underclassmen, but she understood the importance of those points.

“I cannot miss a serve,” Longdon said. “I can’t afford, my team can’t afford it.”

Call her an ace up Jones’ sleeve. Longdon’s first serve was an ace, then her second serve.

Lakewood coach Tasha Kryger called a time out, but it only stalled the Falcons’ victory. Hannah Calderwood got a kill, one of her season-high seven. Kryger called another time out, again only delaying her team’s loss. Hezel scored a block and Longdon finished with her final ace to win 15-9.

“I think that she believes in me and knows that I will help support my team,” Longdon said.

Not all of the sets were as joyful for the Falcons.

The first set was similar to almost every opening game this season for South Whidbey. The Falcons started strong, only to fizzle in the final points. Lethargy settled in after senior setter Emily Houck scored three straight aces and set senior hitter Linden Firethorne to take a 4-0 lead.

“I was just serving tough. And I was like, ‘OK, I can do this.’ I was practicing serving tough in practice. I wanted to put it to the test and it was awesome. It felt great.”

An early six-point lead was lost, however. Mistakes again stymied a quick offensive start. The Falcons had 13 unforced errors including double hits and bad serving and setting in a 20-25 loss.

“We weren’t really anticipating the ball very well,” Jones said. “We couldn’t get our passes up.”

Errors were limited and the Falcons regrouped in the second and third sets, winning 25-14 and 25-11.

“We got our enthusiasm back and were like, ‘We know we’re better than them and we can do this,’” Houck said. “I didn’t want it to turn out like this, but we won so that’s all that matters.”

South Whidbey led for most of the fourth set, only to lose it after a few errors and a kill by Cougar senior hitter Kaylee Diggs tied the game at 23-23. Two hits into the net by the Falcons finished the set and gave the Cougars a spark for the fifth and final set, which the Falcons won.

“Winning definitely gives us a happy advantage going forward,” Houck said. “If we keep working together and if we keep the energy up then it will keep going really well for us.”

It all fell apart against Coupeville, however, on Thursday. The Falcons won the first two sets 25-23 and 27-25, only to lose the next three (18-25, 12-25, 12-15) to the Wolves.

For the Falcons’ individual performances, it was a great night.

Firethorne had 19 kills and two blocks. Hezel had 12 digs, seven kills and three aces. Wood had 24 digs and three kills. Houck had 19 assists, 13 digs and four kills. Longdon had 13 assists, nine digs and two aces.

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