BURLINGTON-EDISON — Lynden Christian cast a long shadow before South Whidbey even stepped on the court.
And for good reason.
The Lyncs boasted five players at least 5-foot-11 and used their height advantage to great effect in the District 1 volleyball match Tuesday. Lynden Christian relied on its hitters to stuff South Whidbey all night in a three-set sweep, 25-20, 25-17, 25-9, knocking the Falcons out of the playoffs.
“They were huge,” said Falcon junior hitter Mackenzie Hezel. “And we needed to work around them and tip into the doughnut where their players weren’t.”
South Whidbey’s offensive leader agreed that Lynden Christian’s size was a major factor in the loss.
“They’re all like seven-foot tall,” said Falcon senior Hannah Calderwood. “I’m pretty sure that was it.”
All season South Whidbey counted on its hitters, of whom Calderwood is the tallest at 5-foot-9, to score kills and blocks. Against the Lyncs, the Falcons’ blockers were nullified, including Calderwood who finished the match without a block. The size disparity also played into South Whidbey’s struggle to score kills, often hitting soft tips that Lynden Christian kept alive with digs and passes that transitioned into more points.
“Them seeing that big block just put up a big wall for them, and they had a really hard time getting past it,” said Falcon head coach Mandy Jones.
“We’ve got to hit hard every time, or tip hard and not give it back to them. We’ve got to do something different, something more aggressive.”
The first set was the most competitive for South Whidbey. As they had all season, the Falcons came out flat and fell behind early, trailing six points much of the set. South Whidbey made a run from a 19-12 deficit. Hezel scored a kill to win the serve, then rattled off three straight aces on her first jump serves of the season.
“I was placing it where their weak passes were or where there were holes,” Hezel said.
After the third ace, Hezel lost the serve with a hit into the net. Still, South Whidbey’s offense rolled into its rhythm and sophomore Abby Hodson, moved from right to middle hitter, scored a kill to cut Lynden Christian’s lead to three points.
The Lyncs tallied a few more points on kills by junior middle Hannah Wynstra (seven kills) and senior outside hitter Cassie Mulder (nine kills) to reach game point. But the self-described “scrappy” Falcons chipped away two more points on a Calderwood kill (10 kills) and a Hezel tip (nine digs, eight kills and three aces).
“We’re not as, for lack of a better word, skilled,” Calderwood said. “But we’re quite a team and we have so many other qualities that can shine, and those came out tonight — not enough for us to win, but enough to make it a game.”
Lynden Christian started the second set with a four-point run. The closest South Whidbey came to tying was early in the set at 7-4 after Hodson scored an ace. From there, the Lyncs extended their lead to as much as 12 points at 22-10. Their offense seemed to improve as the match wore on with kills by five different players and only five errors.
“We worked on stopping the Falcons’ strengths and we really worked on minimizing our errors,” said Lync head coach Kim Grycel.
The third set belonged to the Lyncs. Lynden Christian jumped out to a seven-point lead — only one on an error — as South Whidbey failed to reach double digits.
“The blockers weren’t getting there fast enough, weren’t getting set and weren’t watching the angle of the hitter’s shoulder,” Jones said.
Once the match ended, leaving South Whidbey with a fourth-place District 1 finish but short of a tri-district berth, some Falcons’ emotions overwhelmed them. Players smiled through tears for photos with their teammates and parents. Despite losing, Calderwood was proud of the progress the team made from 2-5 to an 8-6 finish.
“We get mad at each other, but at the end of the day we’re all friends and we’re there for each other, and that can get us through a lot,” Calderwood said.