Falcons net 6th at state

Senior Katy McGillen goes up for the kill against Ephrata Friday at the state 2A volleyball tournament. McGillen’s kills and tough play by the rest of her team got the Falcons into the semifinals before they lost to Chelan. - Matt Johnson
Senior Katy McGillen goes up for the kill against Ephrata Friday at the state 2A volleyball tournament. McGillen’s kills and tough play by the rest of her team got the Falcons into the semifinals before they lost to Chelan.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

When they were up, they were up. But even when they were down, they were still up.

In two first-round matches at the state 2A volleyball tournament at Yakima’s Sundome, the South Whidbey Falcons looked unbeatable. After teetering on the edge of being eliminated from playoffs before they began two weeks earlier, the Falcons seemed to have saved their best for last, beating both Forks and Ephrata Friday to earn a spot among the best six volleyball teams in Washington.

Though they would follow the two wins with two losses the next day, the South Whidbey girls had done everything they had set out to at the start of the season. They’d made it to playoffs and they had placed at the state tournament.

“Just getting to state and getting in the top eight was above what we expected,” said Falcons senior setter Brianna Hussey after the cheers and tears of the tournament — her only one in four years with the team — had died away and dried up.

The Falcons, who took sixth place in the 2A tournament after losing 25-13, 25-21, 25-20 in a third-sixth-place game to Lynden Christian Saturday night, end 2003 as the most accomplished South Whidbey volleyball team in seven seasons. The last time the Falcons made it to the tournament was in 1996; since then, Falcon teams have struggled to even make the playoffs.

But with a core of eight fourth-year seniors, the Falcons — who finish the season with a 22-8 overall record — became the team they’ve wanted to be since starting with the program as freshmen.

Team coach Tim Durbin said it didn’t hurt that his girls got a lucky draw going into the state meet. Instead of having to start off against one of three North Cascades rivals that made it into the tournament, they drew one of the weaker entries from Eastern Washington, Forks. In that first-round match, the Falcons won in four games, even after left-side hitter Katy McGillen rolled her ankle in the second game. McGillen came back into the match, however, and combined with senior hitters Liz Norris and Bronwyn Russell to tally 37 kills in the 25-20, 25-18, 21-25, 25-22 victory. Hussey had her best state match against Forks, putting up 43 of her total 107 tournament assists in the first-round contest.

In their second match Friday, the only trouble the Falcons had was with themselves. Against Ephrata, the Falcons came out strong, winning the first game 25-15. But then, in the words of their coach, the team hit “cruise control” in a couple spots. In the third and final game, that almost cost them when they fell behind 22-24 before coming back on perfect defense and perfect serving to win 26-24 and take quarterfinal match. Getting much of Durbin’s credit for salvaging those later games was junior libaro Amy Brown, who dug 11 balls to keep her team alive in the match.

In the semifinal round, it seemed that the Falcons had more than a good chance. Matched against Chelan, a team they had beaten during the South Whidbey Invitational in September, the Falcons seemed to measure up. But after letting the first game of the match get away 25-15, they could not recover and lost three straight games.

Chelan would go on to lose to Woodland in the title game.

A similar scenario followed in the team’s final game against Lynden Christian. Having been unable to beat the Lyncs all season, the Falcons could find no solution at the Sundome either, and settled for sixth place in the tournament. Standing out in a game that otherwise produced no outstanding statistics for South Whidbey, Bronwyn Russell dug the ball 12 times to try to keep her team in contention.

Having recovered by Monday from the tears that flowed after the match, Russell said she still felt satisfied with her final season as a Falcon.

“It was definitely fulfilling what we wanted,” she said.

Almost the entire varsity lineup graduates off the team next spring. Seniors are Russell, Hussey, McGillen, Norris, Nici Eaton, Sara Hezel, Chelsea Miller and Jordan Tobler. Several of those girls will be receiving post-season honors for their play, with Hussey and McGillen being named to the North Cascades Conference first team and Russell and Norris earning honorable mention. Tim Durbin was named NCC co-coach of the year with Lynden Christian’s Kim DeValois.

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