Falcons push Wildcats to the limit in district volleyball tournament

Linden Firethorne and Molly Rawls leap to block Wildcat hitter Sarah Jamieson.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Linden Firethorne and Molly Rawls leap to block Wildcat hitter Sarah Jamieson.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — A spot in the 2A state volleyball tournament was within reach.

All South Whidbey needed was three points.

The Falcons rallied from the brink of elimination to win the fourth set and force a fifth against arch-rival Archbishop Murphy. The Wildcats recovered from losing the first set 15-25 to win the next two 25-17 and 25-20.

Archbishop Murphy was ready for its third victory over South Whidbey. Then the Falcons found the spirit that spurred them on in the first set, despite trailing 17-21.

“I just said, ‘This is it. We have to put everything we have out there. We are the comeback team — that is us,’ said Falcon senior libero and co-captain Brittany Wood.

Momentum swung from Archbishop Murphy to South Whidbey inside the packed auxiliary gym at South Whidbey High School. The Falcons got the serve back and freshman Anne Madsen scored a tip pass and a block to cut the lead to one point.

Wildcat head coach Jeff Curtis called a timeout.

The Falcon crowd erupted in cheers — the low ceilings and close concrete walls reverberating “Falcon power!”

Out of the timeout, Wildcat senior Marea Homes hit into the net to tie the set 21-21. Falcon junior Hannah Calderwood sent the lead back to the Wildcats after a net hit ended a long rally, and Falcon sophomore setter Meagan Longdon increased the deficit on a net violation, 23-21.

Wildcat senior libero Hannah Linsenmayer, last year’s Cascade Conference Most Valuable Player, served long to return possession to the Falcons.

Falcon senior Linden Firethorne, a first-team all-conference hitter, scored a tip pass and a corner kill to lead 24-23 before Curtis called another timeout as the Falcons and their fans leapt off the bench and off the bleachers in celebration.

Firethorne crushed a kill from the middle of the net to claim the game 25-23 and sent the match into a fifth, winner-to-state, loser-out set.

“When we won the fourth game, from there it was like, we know that we could do it and we got the fourth game,” Firethorne said.

It was familiar territory for the Falcons, who played in seven full-set matches this season and won six of them.

What was unique in this match was the opponent. The Wildcats beat the Falcons twice this season 3-1. Two of the Falcons’ lowest total scoring efforts also came against the Wildcats: 85 and 67 points.

During the break, the Falcons huddled for one final moment of encouragement.

“I pretty much said, ‘Put your heart out there and play like we own this court. This is our game,’” Wood said.

The Wildcats surged to a 3-0 lead on a block by junior hitter Beth Carlson, a double hit by Firethorne and a kill by Homes. Firethorne became a fiery thorn in the Wildcats’ side as she scored five of the Falcons’ six unanswered points to lead 6-3 when Curtis called a timeout.

Again, the South Whidbey fans created a cacophony of cheers, hoots, hollers and screams.

“No one else was putting it down, so we were like, ‘OK let’s go,’” Firethorne said. “And then we just did it over and over again.”

The Falcons pushed their lead 11-6 in the final set. Firethorne scored two tips and an ace before Firethorne served out of bounds and the change of serve forced her to the bench as the rotation changed, along with an all-but-certain outcome.

“I have no idea (what happened),” she said. “I thought we were ahead and I thought we had it, because it was like 11-7, and then I went out and everything fell apart.”

Senior Molly Rawls’ kill was less than a foot beyond the end line.

Wildcat senior hitter Amanda Marvin slapped a kill into the net for the Falcons’ last point, 12-8. Even then, the Wildcats remained calm and Curtis didn’t call a timeout.

“When you get to this point, it’s not about skill, it’s not about ability, it’s not about what I do,” Curtis said. “I just put them on the court and said, ‘You own these 900 square feet. That’s all yours. You want it? Go get it.’”

The Wildcats scored seven points straight, including three on Falcon errors. Marvin had 13 kills, three blocks and three aces. The Falcons last competed in the state volleyball tournament in 2003.

“Archbishop Murphy had a hitter (Marvin) they knew they could rely on to really step up and score on us,” said Falcon senior defensive specialist Justina Mackie-Timmerman.

This season, South Whidbey struggled to win the first set. That was especially true against the Wildcats, who handed the Falcons their worst loss, 25-6, on South Whidbey’s Senior Night.

Part of the problem was rotation changes, particularly lineups without Firethorne. The final points in the final set of the Falcons’ season were no different.

“It would be just certain rotations that we would get passes then we couldn’t get a hit,” Wood said. “They would just keep getting points because they would find the weakness in that rotation.”

Those problems were someplace else in the first set Saturday. South Whidbey gained a lead 8-7 and never lost a multi-point advantage en route to a 25-15 win. Finally, the Falcons opened a match like they were the enforcer, the champion.

“This season we’ve been playing not to lose, instead of playing to win,” Mackie-Timmerman said. “Today, we came out first game to win.”

The second set slipped away in the middle points. There were nine lead changes until the Wildcats went up 14-13 and pulled away 25-17.

“We had some errors, but I think a lot of it was on their side,” Mackie-Timmerman said. “They really stepped up and were reading us really well.”

The third set was similar. The Falcons had an early lead, 10-7, only to lose it at 18-19 and eventually 20-25.

Down two sets to one and facing elimination, the Falcons had their final rally.

“We’ve never had to come back from two losses and then have to win such a tight game,” Mackie-Timmerman said. “We gave it our all.”

The Falcons advanced to the elimination match by beating Lynden 3-2, then losing to the top-seeded Burlington-Edison Tigers 3-0 on Nov. 2.

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