Volleyball heads into bi-district tourney as third seed

Evan Thompson / The Record South Whidbey senior captain Kacie Hanson will be relied upon for her leadership during the tournament. She will also be one of the Falcons’ top offensive threats; she averaged 13.75 kills per match in the district tournament.

Whether it was timing, preparation or a mixture of both, South Whidbey volleyball picked the right time to play the best it has all season.

The Falcons finished third in the Class 1A District 1 tournament Oct. 26-29, defeating last year’s state runner-up Cedar Park Christian along the way. The Falcons’ lone loss came against King’s in the semifinals of the tournament. South Whidbey also defeated Nooksack Valley and Meridian en route to finishing third.

“The girls played like I have never seen before all season,” Falcon head coach Mandy Jones said. “It was amazing.”

The Falcons have the third seed heading into the Bi-District Tournament on Saturday at King’s High School. They play Northwest of the Emerald City League in the opening round. If they win, they’ll face Forest Ridge in the semifinals for a chance to advance to state.

One loss, however, and the Falcons’ season is over. Only the top two teams from the bi-district advance to the state tournament, which will be held Nov. 11-12 at the Yakima Valley SunDome.

If that wasn’t pressure enough, the Falcons will also be without two starters who violated the school’s athletic code and were subsequently suspended from sports for a week. Jones declined to give the names of the suspended athletes.

“The seniors that are here right now know that they’ve got to step up and fight hard and they want to,” Jones said. “It hasn’t changed anything. We want to go to state, we’re still going to work just as hard.”

“We’re not going to let what happened bring us down in any way,” she added.

Falcon seniors and co-captains Kacie Hanson and Megan Drake echoed Jones’ sentiments by saying that while the loss of the players is unfortunate, they are not letting it affect their attitudes heading into bi-districts.

“We only lost two starters, and it’s OK,” Hanson said.

“I think as captains, Kacie and I are going to really try and keep this team close,” Drake added.

South Whidbey has bumped up two junior varsity players — junior Bailey Todd and sophomore Mary Zisette — to the varsity lineup to compensate for the suspensions.

Northwest will be a familiar foe for the Falcons. South Whidbey defeated Northwest during their home tournament, the South Whidbey Invitational, in September. The Falcons have not played Forest Ridge before, but what they do know about the team indicates it wouldn’t be an easy matchup if they reach the semifinals.

“Forest Ridge is going to be tough,” Jones said. “They’re scrappy and they can dig up a lot of balls. We’ve been working a lot on offense and different offensive shots to prepare for them.”

If the Falcons can replicate the same magic they had in the district tournament, they could be in luck.

The Falcons’ five-set victory over Cedar Park Christian on Oct. 29 marked the first win against the Eagles since they joined the Cascade Conference in 2014. The Falcons narrowly lost their matches against the Eagles during the regular season on Oct. 1 and Oct. 11, both of which went to five sets.

Things were no different in the district tournament.

The Falcons lost the first set against Cedar Park Christian, but rattled off wins in the second and third sets. The Eagles’ top player, outside hitter Sam Dreschell, helped Cedar Park Christian capture the fourth set.

“She came out and definitely hammered on us a few times and showed us that they weren’t going to back down,” Hanson said.

It was in the fifth set where the Falcons truly shined.

“We didn’t just win the fifth set; we beat them 15-5,” Jones said. “The girls were just on fire. Their offense was great, their defense was great, they were forcing errors. They were very well prepared to play them.”

It was only a matter of time until they beat them, Jones said.

“I don’t want to say we finally clicked, because we clicked before we played them,” Jones said. “Third time was the charm.”

The Falcons are set to tip off against Northwest at 11 a.m. on Saturday.