Wildcats spoil Falcon volleyball match on Senior Night

Falcon senior hitter Linden Firethorne tips over Wildcat junior hitter Beth Carlson on Tuesday night. Firethorne led all scorers with 17 kills in the Falcons’ fifth loss.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Falcon senior hitter Linden Firethorne tips over Wildcat junior hitter Beth Carlson on Tuesday night. Firethorne led all scorers with 17 kills in the Falcons’ fifth loss.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — Winning the first set has been a problem for the Falcon volleyball team all season.

And then came the 6-25 loss to Archbishop Murphy on Tuesday night.

South Whidbey’s struggles were compounded by the Wildcats’ consistency and efficient offense, which led Archbishop Murphy to a 3-1 win on the Falcons’ Senior Night.

“I just wanted them to play with their heart,” said Falcon head coach Mandy Jones. “The whole Senior Night thing, the nerves, you’d think it would get them pumped up and excited and ready to play,” she said.

“I think they were sad, and just came out in that first set and they were not ready. Their minds were on things completely other than volleyball.”

The Wildcats cruised in the first set as the Falcons failed to put together an offense. Of South Whidbey’s six points, senior hitter Linden Firethorne scored two on kills and four points were from Wildcats serving out of bounds or into the net. The Falcons committed nine errors against the 16 points the Wildcats won, including four aces.

“We couldn’t pass and there was no energy, there was no fun, no excitement and it showed,” Jones said.

Lethargy wore off in the second set for the Falcons, who swapped the lead four times.

The Wildcats rushed to a three-point lead, and appeared to be on the path to winning another quick game. Firethorne scored a kill to end the streak.

A serving error by Wildcat senior Amanda Marvin gave the serve to the Falcons. Falcon senior defensive specialist Justina Mackie-Timmermann was substituted in and served two aces and won a point on a Wildcat carry to lead the set 5-4. A block and a kill by Firethorne put the Falcons ahead 7-4.

“Our team kind of goes off our energy,” Mackie-Timmermann said. “If we’re on, we’re on. If everybody is up and is good, then everybody feeds off of the energy. That’s pretty much what wins it for us.”

Digs by Wildcat senior libero Hannah Linsenmayer kept the Falcons from pulling away.

Last season, Linsenmayer was voted the Cascade Conference’s most valuable player and first-team libero. Her importance to the Wildcats was evident to her coach, Jeff Curtis.

“Hannah Linsenmayer is the face of this program,” Curtis said. “I wouldn’t be standing here as this coach with the ability to do what I can do without her. There are players, and then there are program players. She’s a program defining player.”

Linsenmayer saved a sure kill by Firethorne that led to a point for the Wildcats and stopped the Falcons’ rally. The Wildcat libero finished with 37 digs, eight kills and five aces. Hitting to Linsenmayer was part of the Falcons’ problem throughout the match.

“Again, we weren’t really hitting the ball (well) and making some hitting errors because we weren’t talking to each other,” Jones said.

“And we kept serving to the libero, who, besides Brittany (Wood), is one of the best liberos in the conference. We couldn’t keep it away from her; she had a big red target on her with her red jersey.”

The Wildcats’ offense won 12 points to take the lead at 13-12 and extended it to a 25-18 win. Archbishop Murphy looked like it would sweep South Whidbey in three sets.

“A little bit of it was that everybody wanted to win it for the seniors so much,” Mackie-Timmermann continued, “that it kind of got to everybody. Whereas, all we really needed to do is just go out and play our game and play how we usually do.”

South Whidbey found its stride in the third set, winning 25-16.

The Falcons won the first four points on a kill by senior setter Emily Houck, two aces by Brittany Wood and a Firethorne block.

Archbishop Murphy never led in the third set. That’s in part because Firethorne scored six of her game-high 17 kills, three aces and two blocks in the set. One of her kills went over three Wildcat blockers and into the back corner. The Wildcat coach was uncertain of his team’s effectiveness at stopping one of the league’s best hitters.

“I don’t know if we isolated Linden Firethorne,” Curtis said. “I’m going to say she probably has 14 or 15 kills. We tried our best. I want to let her get her swings; she’s a great kid and I respect what she can do. The goal is, with us, to let her have her swings and see what she can do. If we get a couple (points), we’re lucky; get some blocks, great. If we don’t, let’s just see if we can work something else to work in our favor. You don’t stop a kid like Linden Firethorne.”

Seeing the entire front court shift to Firethorne’s side was old news to her coach.

“She’s amazing; I never doubt her,” Jones said of Firethorne. “She’s so tall and she has such a high reach that she can hit over four blocks. In practice, we put three blockers on her all the time and she’s constantly hitting over them.”

Wood also caught the Falcon fever as she scored two of her team-high four aces at the end of the set. She finished with 15 digs, also a team-high.

“We were talking good, serving tough and hitting tough,” Jones said. “That showed we were actually playing like we know how to play.”

Any rally the Falcons tried to muster in the final set the Wildcats stopped. The fourth set was tied four times at 2-2, 4-4, 5-5 and 6-6, until the Wildcats finished the game on a 19-8 run.

“In the fourth set, we were down a little bit and we couldn’t quite get back in it,” Jones said.

The Falcons tried to block the Wildcats’ main hitter, junior Beth Carlson.

It didn’t work as she finished with six kills, five blocks and three aces, set mainly by Wildcat senior setter Alex Flake who had 38 assists, four aces and two kills.

“It was just playing to the strengths of our offense,” Curtis said. “The kids all believe in themselves, it’s a core group of six seniors and 12 strong. They just know they can go out at any time and take care of it.”

Archbishop Murphy won both matches against South Whidbey this season to finish 12-2 in Cascade Conference matches.

The loss bumped the Falcons to 9-5, being swept by King’s and losing a five-set match at Coupeville. South Whidbey fared better in the previous meeting with Archbishop Murphy, scoring 85 points compared to the 67 scored Tuesday.

The slow start for the Falcons’ offense didn’t bother Jones in preparation for the District 1 tournament.

“We have an ample amount of time to practice and prepare, I don’t think it will mess up our momentum at all,” she said. “If anything, I think it will give us a little boost.”

While some expected to see sorrow after the Falcons lost on Senior Night, there was none to be found. There were no tears; no lingering on the court. Qualifying for the playoffs as the second seed from the Cascade Conference may have delayed those emotions for the time being.

“We know that our season’s not over. We know that our team, even with this loss, is going to go into districts on top of our game,” Mackie-Timmermann said. “This was only one little mini step in our big goal of state, and we’re more than halfway there now.”

South Whidbey plays the third seed from the Northwest Conference at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 2.

As of Thursday, Oct. 27, Lynden was the third-ranked 2A team at 10-3 and beat Ferndale, a 3A school, in five sets Wednesday night.

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