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Falcon volleyball bounced from state 1A tournament
Facing elimination, the South Whidbey Falcons come out firing in the first set of the consolation bracket against Annie Wright.
Unfortunately, that was the only set where the team’s offense found its stride, as the Gators rolled to a 3-1 victory Friday night. Just like that, the decade-in-the-making trip to the state volleyball tournament was over for South Whidbey.
“I’m in a state of shock, along with my team. It doesn’t feel over yet,” said Falcon senior setter Meagan Longdon, later wiping tears from her eyes. “It’s hard that it’s over, that it’s the last time I’m going to play with these girls. I’m trying to hold it together.”
All the flair and passion and screams and cheers that visibly boosted South Whidbey in the state-qualifying round were mostly absent in Yakima, perhaps lost in transit.
“It was a completely different energy than when we played Nooksack Valley,” said Falcon head coach Mandy Jones. “It still actually boggles me. You’d think they would come out with everything they had against Annie Wright and play to the end.”
The story started with the Falcons displaying their brilliant play in the first set, wrangling the Gators 25-16. Junior hitter Anne Madsen scored the first kill for the Falcons, sending South Whidbey’s fans into a frenzy of hooting and hollering.
Key to South Whidbey’s early success was avoiding and blocking Annie Wright’s top hitters, Margaux Arntson and Tori Smith. South Whidbey pulled away from a 5-5 tie on kills from senior Mackenzie Hezel and Longdon, and a block by Hezel, who finished with 11 kills and seven digs.
Annie Wright came within striking distance of the lead after a four-point run at 17-15 before Madsen scored a kill on a free ball. Gators head coach Rodney Kalalau called a timeout, but South Whidbey held its momentum out of the break with an ace by Hezel. The Falcons finished the set on a 7-1 run, including two Madsen kills, a Chantel Brown ace — she landed all 15 of her serves in the match — and a kill by Abby Hodson, who tallied 11 kills and two blocks.
South Whidbey’s offense never found its footing in the second set, which opened with a 3-0 run for Annie Wright. Holding serve, an issue for much of the season, again proved problematic for the Falcons who only managed two two-point runs in the second set 25-13 loss.
“Nothing was on at the same time when we needed it the most,” Longdon said.
Fighting for a match lead, the Falcons fought well in the third set. Madsen, who led South Whidbey with 15 kills, 10 digs and two aces, scored the first two points on back-to-back kills.
Annie Wright pulled ahead from a 3-3 tie and never looked back, going on a 9-4 run to win 25-19. Along the way, South Whidbey missed nine serves after only missing one in its previous match.
Facing elimination, South Whidbey scraped its way to several ties late in the match. The Falcons held a 19-17 lead after three consecutive Gator errors and alternating kills by Madsen, Hezel and freshman Kacie Hanson.
Annie Wright leaned on Smith, who recorded three kills in her team’s final eight points, to retake a 22-19 edge. South Whidbey fought back to a 22-22 tie following a timeout on a tip kill by Madsen and a thunderous spike by Hodson.
But the Falcons couldn’t stop Smith and Arntson, who scored the Gators’ final three points to win the match.
Earlier, South Whidbey lost its first-round match to Chelan and needed a victory to stay in the 1A tournament. Teams that advanced to the second day were guaranteed a top-eight finish.
Chelan won 25-19, 25-17, 25-10 — one of South Whidbey’s quickest defeats this season. The Goats went on to finish in second place, losing the championship match to Cascade-Leavenworth, 25-27, 25-16, 25-19, 25-15.
After the first-round loss, South Whidbey’s players hardly said a word to one another as they walked into their locker room. Plans for a team lunch were scrapped in favor of giving the Falcons some time and space apart before the next match.
“It was a lot of stress the first game going against such a big team,” Longdon said. “Going our separate ways brought us together in the end.”