Evan Thompson / The Record — South Whidbey’s volleyball team celebrates after scoring a point during the South Whidbey Invitational on Saturday at Erickson Gymnasium. The Falcons won the invite for the third year in a row.

Falcons volleyball continues dominance of home invitational

For the third consecutive year, South Whidbey volleyball won its annual home invitational.

The taste of victory, however, was slightly less sweet as the Falcons went relatively unchallenged during the day-long tournament on Saturday at South Whidbey High School. Head coach Mandy Jones said that while there were 12 teams who participated, none were above the class 1A level, unlike previous years where the Falcons triumphed over class 4A teams like Bethel. The date of the tournament conflicted with several of the bigger school’s schedules and were unable to return.

“I’m not disappointed, I just wish it was more of a challenge,” Jones said. “It was a good opportunity to mess around with some different lineups and different offensive and defensive formations.”

Jones added that the Falcons — who appeared in the class 1A state volleyball championships in 2016 and are undefeated this season — were able to fine tune several aspects of their game from setting up attacks to countering their opponents’ attempts to disarray their defense. They’ll need all the help they can get when they face who are arguably their toughest two Cascade Conference opponents this week: King’s and Archbishop Murphy. Archbishop Murphy won the league in 2016, while King’s finished runner-up.

“I thought it was tough enough to let us practice our skills, practice our plays while still having people who could get the ball and return it,” senior middle hitter Megan Miller said.

“We were able to try new things and still be able to work on everything we had previously learned,” added senior setter Bailey Todd.

The tournament, which began in the morning, also tested the Falcons’ cardio. The Falcons played six matches in all, though matches during pool play were only two sets.

The Falcons’ toughest test of the day came against Nooksack Valley in the semifinals of the championship bracket, following pool play. South Whidbey won the best of three matches 25-16, 25-22.

Nooksack Valley specifically targeted Falcons’ setters Todd and junior Chloe Johnson with kills as a way of getting the Falcons “out of system.” It’s a typical attack used by teams to force the setters to dig the ball, when they’re normally the players who set up an offensive play. When someone else is forced to set the ball for an outside hitter, it weakens the strength of an attack, Jones said.

The Falcons beat Coupeville 25-6, 25-10 in the championship match of the tournament. Other participating teams included North Mason, Northwest, Lopez Island and Orcas Island.

Jones pointed out that the Nooksack Valley match helped prepare the Falcons for what they’ll likely see against King’s and Archbishop Murphy, while it also proved they can beat a team they could face in the class 1A District 1 tournament in November.

Now eight matches into the season, Jones has a clear picture of the team’s strengths and weaknesses. She said senior Kolby Heggenes and junior Emma Leggett are more than reliable as outside hitters, while their defense is anchored by the play of junior libero Angelina Wilson, senior Sophia Nielsen and Leggett, among a few others.

Jones said the team’s only hiccups thus far have been inadequate connections between setters and hitters, as well as the team’s ability to serve and receive.

“It’ll be interesting when we see some tougher serves to figure out where we’re at,” Jones said.

The Falcons played King’s after The Record’s deadline on Tuesday night. South Whidbey plays Archbishop Murphy away on Thursday night.