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October 17, 2012 at 6:21 AM

The Right Stuff: Some volleyball notes on the messy Metro Mountain Division, No. 1 MI’s rematch with No. 3 Mount Si and other league races

Welcome to volume one of The Right Stuff, a weekly blog notebook focused on prep volleyball, which I’ll be posting each Wednesday.

It’s in addition to the Monday blog that details my Class 4A, 3A and 2A state rankings.

And it supplants the daily recaps of scores and highlights. You know you can always find those on the website anyway, don’t you? Just look to the right of this blog where it says “Scores & stats” and click on villeyball under “Choose a Sport”. You can find results and standings from there.

I hope you will enjoy this notebook, and I’m open to your suggestions. It’s a work in progress – something I’m jumping into just before the playoffs. Next year, I anticipate kicking off the notebook at the beginning of the season so it can be a steady source of information.

Today, I’m going to take a look at the mess in the Metro League, preview Thursday’s big KingCo 3A/2A showdown between No. 1 Mercer Island and No. 3 Mount Si and touch base on some other league races. Eventually, I’ll be linking you to playoff brackets and results.

So here goes:

The Mighty Metro Mountain Division is simply a mess

Many consider the Metro League the toughest 3A conference in the state. And, let’s face it, we’re generally talking about the Mountain Division here, where all of the private schools are lumped with Bainbridge.

No disrespect to the Sound Division, which includes some solid teams like West Seattle and Chief Sealth, but you won’t find the same quality of tradition-rich programs there. There has been a Mountain Division team in the 3A state final in each of the past four years and nine of the past 11.

Most seasons, there were few gimmee matches in the Mountain Division. This season, there are none. There is parity like never before. Five of the six teams – all but Bishop Blanchet – have been ranked at some point during the season, and a case could be made for the Braves.

Consider this – Holy Names, rated No. 1 earlier in the season, currently is tied for last place with Blanchet. The two teams square off tonight (Wednesday) to close out the regular season. The winner qualifies for the Metro League tournament. The loser stays home.

“Like I tell people, it is Metro madness,” Lakeside coach Katie Wilson said. “It truly is a case of any given Sunday at this point. On the bright side, playing in a league as tough as Metro you must continue to improve through the season. You never get a night off.”

Holy Names showed a pulse Monday with a 3-1 victory over Lakeside, which had just jumped into this week’s rankings at No. 10. The Cougars had lost three in row – since a 3-0 victory over Blanchet back on Oct. 1.

Lakeside beat Holy Names 3-1 the first time around. But Wilson was nervous about the rematch – in part because it fell on a Monday. The Lions are now 0-5 in Monday matches.

“Fortunately, we won’t play on a Monday again,” she said.

On any other day, they are 4-0 in league play.

Sixth-ranked Bainbridge is currently in the driver’s seat in the Mountain Division at 7-2, just ahead of 6-3 Seattle Prep – which had risen to No. 4 in the rankings before losing back-to-back matches last week to Bainbridge and Lakeside.

The Spartans are assured of at least a share of the division title and can win it outright with a victory over Lakeside tonight. If they lose and Seattle Prep beats Eastside Catholic, they will be co-champions and must play off Friday for the No. 1 seed into next week’s Metro tournament. They have split their two regular-season matches.

Lakeside and Eastside Catholic currently share third place. If they are still tied after tonight’s matches, they too must play off Friday as they have split and the No. 3 team has an advantage in the tournament with a first-round bye.

Are you following this?

Things are simpler in the Sound Division, where West Seattle (11-0) and Chief Sealth (9-2) will be 1-2 – regardless of the outcome of their head-to-head match tonight.

There is at least one tie possibility, but that would require Ingraham (7-4) losing to Cleveland (0-11). The Rams likely will be third with Nathan Hale (6-5) in the No. 4 spot. Franklin (4-7) has the fifth and final spot.

I touched base with West Seattle coach Joe Baleto Tuesday because I thought the Seahawks deserve a little love after clinching their third straight Sound title. He said his players are focused on beating their cross-town rivals tonight and running the table in the division.

“The girls want to make it a perfect record in the South Division, a goal they wanted to achieve,” Baleto said.

He admits the Metro tournament will be “a whole other level,” but takes solace in playing Lakeside close (3-2) earlier in the season. The Wildcats lost 3-0 in a crossover match with Holy Names.

“We will be ready to go when Metros begin,” Baleto said.

Eight of the 10 teams in the Metro tourney will advance to the SeaKing District tournament, along with the top four teams out of KingCo 3A.

The Metro tournament is actually the first post-season volleyball event to start, with loser-out matches next Tuesday between the fourth- and fifth-place finishers in each division. I’ll have those results in volume two of The Right Stuff and have the full bracket for you as well.

KingCo 3A/2A title on the line Thursday

Coming into the season, Mercer Island coach Susan McKay told me she thought this could be the year her team breaks through to beat Mount Si for the KingCo 3A/2A title for the first time since 2008 – when they went on to place fourth at state.

I took the wait-and-see approach, and ranked Mount Si ahead of Mercer Island, based on the Wildcats’ recent successes.

Mount Si was at No. 1 in the state, and MI at No. 3, when the two teams met at MI on Sept. 24. The Islanders won a block-buster, 3-2.

Now the rematch is Thursday at Mount Si, and both coaches are confident.

In fact, Mount Si coach Bonnie Foote said she doesn’t really know how her team managed to lose the first time around, blowing 10-point leads in two sets (winning one of them and losing the other).

Lindsay Carr, one of the top juniors in the state, crushed 26 kills in that match – but also was blocked eight times.

“We can beat them if we don’t beat ourselves,” Foote said. “I feel player for player, Mercer Island is better than us, but we’re more even-keeled.”

McKay saw some mental toughness from her team in the first meeting.

“The key for us mentally in the last match was a determination to win and the confidence to come back even when we were behind,” she said.

She anticipates a pressure-packed atmosphere at Mount Si.

“We have 10 very determined seniors who know that this is their big chance to finally win KingCo, and I am confident that they can do it,” McKay said.

A glance at some other league races

Kentwood came into the season favored to win the SPSL 4A North Division again after placing second at state last season, but Auburn Riverside currently has the lead at 6-0 and is ranked No. 10 in the state.

But Kentwood and Kent-Meridian are close behind at 5-1. Those two teams square off Thursday, when Riverside plays a dangerous Tahoma team (3-3). Then it all could come down to Tuesday’s showdown between the Ravens and Conquerors at Auburn Riverside.

In the South Division, third-ranked Curtis is looking for its first undisputed title. The Vikings (6-0) won’t be able to coast as they face No. 9 Puyallup Thursday, then take on up-and-coming Emerald Ridge next Tuesday. The Vikings and Jaguars are both 5-1.

ER, loaded with talented sophomores, knocked off Puyallup last month, then was upset by Bethel last week.

The SPSL 4A tournament is Oct. 27. It’s primarily for seeding only as the top five teams from each division play in crossover matches. Nine of the 10 teams advance to the tough West Central/Southwest Bi-District tournament the following week (only the loser of the match between the fifth-place teams is eliminated).

In KingCo 4A, Newport and skyline share first place at 7-1. Newport is No. 6 in The Times poll and No. 8 in the Coaches Association rankings. I’ve held off ranking Skyline, but the Coaches Association puts them ahead of Newport at No. 7 – even though the Knights beat them earlier this season.

Newport was cruising in league play – until running into Roosevelt (7-2) last week and losing 3-1. Coach Jeremy Brown said the Roughriders played very well, but that his team “ran out of gas” after winning the Climb the Peak tournament at Glacier Peak a few days earlier and battling some illness. He anticipates a strong stretch run.

“I think we’ll be ready to go,” he said.

Newport closes out the regular season against Bothell (4-4) and Woodinville (6-2). Skyline faces Redmond (0-8) and Issaquah (4-4).

I’ll touch more on some of the other area leagues next week, but note that No. 2 Jackson (7-0) leads Kamiak (6-1) in the WesCo 4A South Division and has beaten the Knights at home. The rematch is next Wednesday at Kamiak and should be a good one.

Monroe is in control in the WesCo 4A North at 5-0, followed by Lake Stevens and Snohomish, both 4-2. I admit I’ve expected more from Snohomish, led by the dynamic Lanesha Reagan. We’ll see if the Panthers make a late push.

The top two teams from both KingCo and WesCo advance to the 4A state tournament. The No. 3 finishers play off for the fifth and final state berth.

I’ll have more info on the state allocations next week, too.

Lastly, an update on WesCo 3A, which is in divisions for the first time. I’ve had Glacier Peak in my rankings a couple of times, but it seems to work like a curse and the Grizzlies wind up losing in response. The Coaches Association has Meadowdale at No. 9, although the Mavericks lost 3-2 to Shorewood a couple of weeks ago. Shorewood actually leads the South Division at 5-1 (they lost 3-0 to Glacier Peak on Sept. 27) with Meadowdale at 4-1.

Right now, I don’t have any WesCo teams in the 3A rankings. But I’ve been taking a hard look at Stanwood, which dropped from 4A this school year, and the Spartans might just jump in the top-10 next week. They improved to 6-0 in the North Division Tuesday, beating Marysville-Pilchuck, 3-1.

That’s it for this edition, and I can’t always promise the others will be this long and detailed – but be sure check back each Wednesday to see. And get out and watch some of this great prep volleyball we’re being treated to in the area!

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