Sports

Falcons bound for state | Volleyball bests Nooksack Valley

   - Ben Watanabe / The Record
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

South Whidbey hit harder.

The Falcons played what may be their finest game of the season, showing resolve, composure and powerful arms in a 3-1 win over the Pioneers in the tri-district 1A tournament Saturday.

Playing for a spot in the state 1A volleyball tournament, South Whidbey came out firing for a 25-22, 26-24, 23-25, 25-15 victory.

“We are going to state,” said Falcon senior setter Meagan Longdon, beaming with a smile while wiping away tears.

In the rematch of an earlier District 1 1A tournament game in which Nooksack Valley won in four close sets, South Whidbey turned the tide. The Falcons rallied in each of the first three sets before cruising in the fourth in a match that lasted nearly two hours.

“I’m exhausted, I can barely stand,” said Longdon, who played every point and only rested in between sets.

At the end of the match, won on a kill by Falcon senior Mackenzie Hezel, South Whidbey’s coaches and players mobbed the six on the court, screaming, cheering, hugging and crying.

Celebrations continued outside once the next teams in the tri-district tournament took the court.

Beating Nooksack Valley and securing a berth in the state tournament brought a massive, collective sigh of relief from the Falcon volleyball program. This is the first time in almost 10 years South Whidbey has made a state volleyball tournament. Fortunately for the Falcons, they won’t have to cancel the hotel rooms head coach Mandy Jones booked earlier last week.

“I’m so excited. I’m so proud of them, so happy,” said Jones, who qualified her first state-bound team as a coach this year after a couple of near-make seasons. “I knew in my heart, I could vision us at state. I could see it and knew we could get there. I was never worried, I was just excited and anxious. The anticipation was killing me.”

Tension was rife in the Mike Martin Gym at King’s High School on Saturday. Neither team separated itself by more than eight points through the first three sets. Victory was decided by a total of 15 points.

Ties were a common part of the match, even late into the set. In the first game, South Whidbey and Nooksack Valley tied the score eight times before the Falcons seized the lead on a Hezel kill at 22-21. Pioneers’ errors put the set in the Falcons’ hands.

The Pioneers rumbled to an early edge in the second set, 9-5, before Jones called a timeout. That didn’t seem to fix much, as the Falcons hit wide and gave up an ace to extend the Pioneers’ lead to 11-5. But South Whidbey stuck with its script and passed to its “on” hitters — Hezel, junior Anne Madsen and junior Abby Hodson. Madsen scored four kills and Hodson scored a block as the Falcons tied the score 14-14.

“I started off slow, but knew I had to put it all out and hit as hard as I can for my teammates,” Madsen said. “Once I got on, they kept feeding me the balls, making perfect sets. I knew I had to hit that angle.”

From there, the teams traded points to a 24-24 tie, extending the win-by-two set. Falcon freshman Kacie Hanson, filling a spot vacated by the injured Michelle Baublitz, scored a kill to put up her team 25-24. An error by the Pioneers handed South Whidbey the win.

In the third set, the game played out much the same as the first two, with neither team able to break away. Nooksack Valley took a 15-13 lead which they were able to maintain to a 25-23 win, and push the match to a fourth set.

Facing a bit of disappointment, South Whidbey rallied in the fourth set from a 9-9 tie. Each thunderous Falcon kill sent its sizable crowd into a frenzy all the way to a 25-15 win.

“They definitely gave us a fight,” Madsen said. “We just pushed a little bit harder and got it.”

 

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