Team unity can go a long way.
And after winning the 35th annual South Whidbey Invite on Saturday for the first time in school history, the Falcons volleyball team has a far better appreciation for that fact.
The Falcons won the 16-team tournament, beating out Class 3A and 4A teams Eastmont and Bethel, respectively, for the team title. It was a break-through moment for South Whidbey, which has finished second, third, and fourth in the tournament over the past three seasons.
“Being on past teams where you come so close and lose it, it’s really heart breaking,” said senior Sara Bryant. “It’s really hard to get so close and just lose. It was a really nice experience to be with a team who put it on the dot like, this is it. Yeah, it’s our last year, but this is such an awesome team that it felt really nice to win something with them. It’s validating that we can do this.”
During Monday’s practice, the team huddled in a circle on the court of the main gym and discussed their takeaways from the tournament.
It wasn’t long before it was said that the team’s cohesion throughout the early parts of the season proved vital in winning the tournament.
“I’m glad they brought that up because I’ve seen it from the first day of actual tryouts and when cuts were made,” said Falcons’ head volleyball coach Mandy Jones. “I saw the team unity right away and the chemistry and the energy out on the courts, I haven’t seen it in a long time with past teams. When the girls are jiving and they’re getting along and they’re having fun with each other, you can win amazing things.”
The Falcons began in pool play, where they played two-set matches against three teams. First the Falcons beat Northwest, 25-15, 25-17. Junior Kacie Hanson led the Falcons with eight kills and three digs, while senior Katherine Read had a team-high eight assists. South Whidbey continued its momentum against Lopez Island, winning 25-5, 25-18. Senior Marina Alber led the Falcons with 17 assists.
As fate would have it, the Falcons faced Nooksack Valley in the final bout of pool play. Nooksack had knocked the Falcons out of the playoffs last season and the South Whidbey players sought revenge.
They did so by winning 25-7, 25-12. Bryant led the Falcons with eight digs, while Hanson had nine aces and six digs to go with three kills.
After emerging 3-0 from pool play, the Falcons transitioned to the best-of-three-sets tournament play.
Their first opponent was Bethel, a 4A team coached by former Falcon standout and Pacific Lutheran University collegiate player Allison Wood.
Wood was a two-time first team All-Cascade Conference outside hitter from 2009 to 2010. She later went on to start for the Lutes.
It was an emotional full circle for Jones, who coached Wood from the seventh grade and into high school.
“It was very surreal,” Jones said. “That was really cool to see her coaching and do such an awesome job.”
South Whidbey dropped the first set, 25-21, but quickly rebounded by winning the next two sets, 25-16, 15-9.
Bryant led the team with 14 digs, while senior Maryn Patterson led the Falcons with six kills. Hanson contributed 12 digs to go along with five kills and three aces.
Bethel finished third in the tournament, beating Mount Vernon Christian in the third/fourth-place match.
The Falcons then overwhelmed Eastmont in the championship match, winning 25-18, 25-15.
Read finished with 19 assists, while Hanson contributed seven kills.
Island rival Coupeville finished 14th in the tournament, while Mount Vernon Christian and Friday Harbor rounded out the top five.
South Whidbey’s junior varsity squad finished 10th overall.
The Falcons still have room to improve, but Jones was pleased with the stepping stone the team now has to the rest of the season. She praised Read for her setting, Bryant for her defense, and Hanson for her offense.
“I took a lot of notes. There’s a still a lot of things we need to be worked on and fined tuned and they’re aware of that,” Jones said.
Jones, who graduated from South Whidbey in 1994, said it felt amazing to win after having seen the team come close to winning the tournament in the past.
“It still hasn’t really hit me yet,” Jones said. “It’s a really big milestone getting first place in your own tournament that you’ve had for 34 years.”
Jones thanked Jason Kalk, who is the Island County Fair Association Board president and owner of Lincoln Computers, who was vital in helping run the tournament.
The Falcons played at Granite Falls on Tuesday night after The Record went to press. South Whidbey plays Archbishop Murphy at home on Thursday night.