Sports

Volleyball takes rough road to playoffs

Senior Bronwyn Russell digs the ball out of the back court with junior Amy Brown standing by as backup during a match against Lynden Christian Saturday. Despite stellar games by Russell and senior Katy McGillen, the Falcons were unable to build enough momentum to win more than one game against the Lyncs. - Matt Johnson
Senior Bronwyn Russell digs the ball out of the back court with junior Amy Brown standing by as backup during a match against Lynden Christian Saturday. Despite stellar games by Russell and senior Katy McGillen, the Falcons were unable to build enough momentum to win more than one game against the Lyncs.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

Two make-or-break matches for the South Whidbey High School volleyball team last week didn’t do much to make the squad’s playoff chances any better.

Going into matches against Nooksack Valley Thursday and Lynden Christian Saturday, the Falcons were the third-ranked team in the North Cascades Conference and seemed on their way to hosting the first two rounds of the Northwest 2A District playoffs at Erikson Gymnasium. Unfortunately, the road to a playoff advantage ran into two of the best volleyball teams in the state, Nooksack Valley and Lynden Christian.

On Thursday, the Falcons lost to Nooksack Valley on the road in three straight games, falling 15-25, 16-25, 21-25. And on Saturday, at home and with even with more fight in them, the South Whidbey girls still got handled by the Lyncs, losing to the NCC’s second-best team in four games, 17-25, 23-25, 25-19, 20-25.

Even with the losses, the Falcons clinch a playoff spot, and end the regular season in fourth place in the NCC with the same 5-3 record as Nooksack’s Pioneers.

Statistically, Thursday’s game was nothing special, with the Falcons losing in quick order. Pacing the team was senior Bronwyn Russell with 13 assists — filling in for senior setter Brianna Hussey after Hussey turned an ankle in the first game — junior Amy Brown with 16 digs, and senior Liz Norris with seven kills.

But on Saturday, the Falcons played almost well enough to win against the Lyncs. After letting the first game of the match go a bit too easily, the Falcons made the night a challenge for the Lyncs. Mixing up her shots at the net, the team’s top killer — Katy McGillen — alternately pounded the Lync with hard-hit winners and surprised them with gentle tips off convincing fakes at the net to tally 16 total kills. She also did defensive duty in the back court, digging out 15 balls.

But, despite making the second game in the set close and taking the third, the Falcons couldn’t quite keep their momentum. Tied with the Lyncs 15-15 in the fourth game, the South Whidbey girls started to lose their grip. Knocked out of position by well-placed Lync hitting, the Falcons fell seven points behind and never recovered, getting no closer than 20-24 on a McGillen tip winner.

Bronwyn Russell, who was again a force on the court in the Lynden Christian game with 11 kills, said the Lyncs were able to pick her team apart.

“They found our weak points,” she said.

Team coach Tim Durbin made a somewhat more harsh assessment of the performance.

“Our defensive awareness was lacking,” he said.

Still, Durbin noted the Falcons were effective on offense, missing only three serves on the night. Also helping out was Brianna Hussey, who came back from her ankle injury to record 37 assists on the night.

With the losses, the Falcons start district playoffs with a game today at Meridian High School against Mount Baker, the fifth-ranked team in the NCC. In the last meeting between the two teams, on Oct. 7, the Falcons won 3-0. Wednesday’s game starts at 5:30 p.m.

A win against Meridian would send the Falcons to a playoff game against one of the top teams in the NCC, Meridian, Nooksack Valley or Lynden Christian.

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