Falcons find offensive chemistry at South Whidbey Invitational

LANGLEY — South Whidbey’s volleyball team had a long week.

LANGLEY — South Whidbey’s volleyball team had a long week.

The Falcons played three matches in five days. All three were decided in five-set tiebreakers. That’s 15 sets in a week.

Then South Whidbey hosted its annual South Whidbey Invitational volleyball tournament with 15 other teams from across Washington, which the Falcons finished in seventh place behind tournament champion Chelan and runner-up Meadowdale.

After such a busy schedule, South Whidbey head coach Mandy Jones said she wanted her players to step onto the court and do something a little different — have fun.

“They really had a good time. They were really starting to think as a group and work together as a group,” Jones said.

“Everybody can have fun together, and everybody can play together — not just the starting six.”

South Whidbey started the tournament, which does not count toward a team’s match total or record, sluggishly against Hoquiam. The Falcons won the first set 25-21, before losing the second set 17-25 to the Grizzlies and running out of time in the best-of-three/45-minute matches. With the first match at 9:15 a.m. on a Saturday, who could blame the Falcons for dropping the second set against the eventual fourth-place team?

“In the first match, it might have been that we were tired,” said Falcon senior Hannah Calderwood. “It was early.”

“League games are really intense, high stress. Today, it’s really about fun, we enjoy ourselves.”

The Falcons had about an hour of rest before they faced Shoreline Christian. South Whidbey sprinted to a 25-12 win in the first set. The Falcons jumped ahead by double digits on kills from Calderwood and sophomore Anne Madsen. Calderwood, Madsen and sophomore Abby Hodson dominated the net all day, totaling 67 kills.

“Mandy’s been teaching us, really hammering, to look at the court. The setting was on, the passing was on,” Calderwood said.

South Whidbey was prepped to run away with the sweep as Madsen’s ace extended the lead to 17-13. Shoreline Christian crept back and took the lead at 21-20 on an ace and extended it to 22-20 on another ace before Jones called a timeout. Madsen scored a kill in the middle to cut the lead to one point, but a serve and a hit into the net stalled South Whidbey’s momentum. Falcon senior hitter Aly Chapman kept her team’s hopes alive with a swing pass and Madsen scored the final Falcon point on a kill before Shoreline Christian stayed on top for a 25-23 win. The time limit kept the teams from playing a third set tiebreaker.

Despite the two letdown sets, the Falcons went into the lunch break at ease, if not a little fatigued.

“We all just realized that we need to not worry about our mistakes, because if we get down it’s going to be a long day,” Madsen said.

The Falcons finished pool play against the Sedro-Woolley Cubs (1-2 Northwest Conference; 1-4 overall), a District 1 2A school. Finally, the Falcons swept an opponent, 25-17, 25-11. Jones said she saw steady improvement in her team’s offense last week. On Friday, the Falcons drilled on serve and receive and finishing “free balls” when an opposing team passes the ball back over, rather than resetting from a dig or block.

“I’m trying to break them just watching the ball from the set,” Jones said. “They need to look at the whole court, see the ball, find the court and then find the ball again.”

For South Whidbey’s hitters and two setters, practice paid off during the tournament. The Falcons put the ball down, rather than rallying back and forth with opponents and waiting for the other team to make a mistake. Looking before the Falcons hit made the difference.

“Reading where the blockers are, when I get the ball, helped,” Madsen said.

In the bracket tournament, South Whidbey lost its first match in yet another tiebreaker. At least this time it was only in three sets and not a full match of five sets. Against Cascade (0-4 overall), a 4A school in the Western Conference, South Whidbey won the first match handily, 25-17. The Falcons fell 23-25 in the second set, despite being close much of the game. The frustration compounded on the Falcons, who managed only one kill in the third set loss, 10-15.

“Once they make an error, it’s hard for them to bounce back,” Jones said.

Dropped to the consolation bracket, South Whidbey faced Cascade Christian for the seventh-eighth place match. The Falcons finished with a flourish, defeating the Eagles 25-12, 25-19.

Chelan, a 1A school, defeated Meadowdale in the championship match 25-19, 25-18. Chelan also won the tournament last year. Lakeside defeated Hoquiam for a third-place finish and Lynnwood beat Cascade for fifth place.

South Whidbey hosts Granite Falls (2-3 Cascade Conference; 2-3 overall) on Thursday.