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Roles reversed for Falcons against Red Wolves, King’s
SHORELINE — The broom swung both ways for the South Whidbey volleyball team this week.
Against Cedarcrest on Tuesday, the Falcons swept the Red Wolves in three straight sets. Two days later, the role was reversed and the King’s Knights won 3-0.
“We were holding our own, we were excited,” said Falcon head coach Mandy Jones. “We had the lead at one point. We just couldn’t put the ball down.”
South Whidbey’s bid for an upset against the only undefeated team in the Cascade Conference fell well short. King’s remained perfect against the third-place Falcons and won 25-17, 25-17, 25-12.
“We’re just not quite at the level we had to be at to beat them,” said Falcon senior hitter Linden Firethorne.
The Knights finished the first set on a six-point run. Jones was pleased with her team’s performance, if not the outcome.
“We played hard; we played good,” Jones said. “We have to get over the hump of, ‘You played well enough.’”
In the second set, the Falcons and the Knights (14-0 in conference, 14-0 overall) traded the lead and tied 10 times in the first 17 points.
King’s began the game on a three-point run. A kill by Firethorne ended the scoring spree and regained serve for South Whidbey (10-4, 10-4). Falcon senior setter Emily Houck aced the serve, then Firethorne scored a block to tie 3-3.
A dig by sophomore hitter Mackenzie Hezel led to a Knights error and a 4-3 Falcon lead. King’s took the lead for good on a Falcon error. South Whidbey crept back into contention after trailing seven points at 20-13. Jones called a time out after consecutive errors.
Out of the time out, Falcon senior hitter Molly Rawls scored a shallow tip pass over two Knights blockers. King’s won two points on Falcon errors, then Firethorne scored another block. Junior hitter Hannah Calderwood scored on a kill deep to the baseline. The rally fell flat as King’s scored two kills and a block to finish the set.
Losing the first two sets took the fight out of the Falcons.
“Our errors weren’t as high as they usually are,” Jones said. “We had some scrappy defense against King’s, too. We were making some great digs and some great blocks.”
The Knights’ defense stopped the Falcons from stringing together points in the third set. Jessica Manca tied the set early on a block at 3-3. King’s extended its lead on a 12-to-3 run.
“They’re really good on defense,” Jones said. “We couldn’t find any holes.”
It was a weak night for the Falcons’ statistics. Firethorne led with 14 kills and five blocks. Wood added 12 digs. Houck set seven assists and Longdon had six.
“I think King’s found the holes on our offense toward the end of each set,” Jones said. “They were keying in on our offense, mainly Linden, for the most part.”
Surprisingly, given King’s quick victory, the Knights’ best players also had meager numbers. The Knights’ senior outside hitters, Payton Young and Caitlin Fransen, each had eight kills.
“They’re really strong,” Firethorne said. “We had to know going out there that they’re the strongest offense in our conference. If we don’t stop them from the beginning, they’re just going to beat us.”
Losing two matches in two weeks (against Coupeville in five sets and King’s in three), leading to the season finale at home against Archbishop Murphy gave Jones no reasons for concern.
“I told those girls that in my mind they won those first two games against King’s because they played hard,” she said. “Yeah, there are a couple of things I’d like to tweak, but ultimately their energy level and their desire to win was above the level of our norm.”
“I’m glad that we played King’s. It shows us that we can compete against the level that we’re going to face in districts,” Jones added.
Preparation for Senior Night against the conference’s second-place team, Archbishop Murphy, began Friday. Jones said she wanted to instill a competitive edge in her Falcons and improve some of her rotations to keep serve on her side, rather than battling back with her defense.
For Firethorne and the other seniors, the match has been years in the making.
“We are all super excited,” Firethorne said. “This game and next game won’t affect our seeding — win or lose — for districts, but it would still be a big win for us. I think we just need to come out strong knowing we are just as good, if not better than them. We totally have the ability to beat them.”
“They don’t have anything we don’t have,” Firethorne added.
South Whidbey hosts the district playoffs for the south site. As the second seed from the Cascade Conference, South Whidbey will play the third-place 2A school from the Northwest Conference.
The Falcons will host either Sehome or Lynden. Sehome defeated Lynden earlier this season 3-1, but travels to play the Northwest Conference’s second-ranked team, Anacortes on Monday.
Last season, the Falcons lost in the single-elimination district crossover match against Mount Baker, 1-3.
This year, South Whidbey is guaranteed at least two matches as the conference’s second seed.