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November 7, 2012 at 8:30 AM

The Right Stuff: An extra-long volume with dreaded state predictions along with volleyball notes on Jackson, Skyline, Bonney Lake, Annie Wright and Bear Creek

Corrected version

If there’s one time to get out and watch some high-school volleyball, it’s this weekend.

There are six state tournaments to choose from, and all should be exciting. In this volume of The Right Stuff, I’ll touch at least briefly on each one. And I’ve got some great notes on several teams: Jackson, Skyline, Bonney Lake, Annie Wright and Bear Creek.

Yep, giving some much-deserved love to a couple of small schools this week. And it’s an extra-long edition, so hopefully you enjoy it. Not sure if I’ll be back with a final volume next week to reflect on the tournaments, or not.

I’ll be at Saint Martin’s University Friday and Saturday focusing on the Class 4A tournament, but I’ll be catching some 3A action as well (we’ll have another reporter covering that tourney). Wish I could sneak over to Pierce College to take a look at parts of the 2A action as well – that field is loaded.

And if you live on the other side of the state, the Yakima SunDome is the place to be, with the 1A, 2B and 1B events.

I linked you to all of the brackets on Sunday. This time, I’ll just take you to the WIAA brackets page, and you can just click on the volleyball tourney you’re interested in (you’ll find football and soccer brackets there as well, along with results from last year’s tournaments).

You might have noticed that there were changes to the 1A and 1B brackets from the ones originally posted Sunday. Cindy Adsit, the WIAA assistant executive director in charge of volleyball, e-mailed this explanation when I asked about what transpired:

“In the original 1A draw, District 5 #2 was incorrectly considered to be a #1 team, when it should have been District 6/7 #2.

The corrected 1A draw meets the following conditions:

– one-half of the original draw was maintained; the first quarter bracket and the fourth quarter bracket remain the same

– District 6/7 #2 is now a #1 team

– District 5 #2 is now a #2 team

– the #1 and #2 teams from each District are in separate half brackets

– the lowest seeded team from one District will play the highest seeded team from another District when possible

In the 1B draw, results of the District 4/5 tournament were corrected, which reversed Klickitat and Sunnyside Christian and impacted the opposing schools (Shoreline Christian and St John-Endicott) in matches 6 and 7″

A glance at each state tourney

Class 4A – The top two in my rankings all season have been Mead and Jackson. Jackson started out at No. 1, but the two traded spots after Mead’s head-to-head victory in the championship match of the Spokane Crossover Classic. I’m happy to see they are on opposite sides of the bracket and, yes, I’ve got them penciled in to play for the title.

But neither team has an easy road. Jackson opens against a good Gig Harbor team (ranked earlier in the season), then would face the winner between No. 5 Emerald Ridge and No. Newport. If the Timberwolves get through the first two rounds, they likely would see No. 3 Bellarmine Prep in the semis. I think Bellarmine is another team that could win this thing.

Mead starts with Auburn Riverside, which is young but talented, and a win their could mean a showdown with No. 4 Camas. I predict the winner of that one would face either No. 6 Skyline or No. 8 Olympia.

My pick to win, if you twist my arm: Jackson.

Class 3A – At the beginning of the season, I said I thought Class 3A was wide open, and I think it still is. There are a lot of really, really good teams in the field and I really think there are 8-10 teams that could legitimately win it.

The first-round matchup I hated to see: Mercer Island vs. Prairie, which have been ranked 1-2 the last few weeks. MI is still unbeaten and ranked No. 1, but Prairie threw a wrench into things by slipping up at the West Central/Southwest Bi-District tournament – twice. Of course, Bonney Lake and Auburn Mountainview had something to do with that.

I’m a still Prairie believer, though. I just wish they were meeting MI later in the tournament. That upper half of the bracket also includes No. 3 Mount Spokane, which is healthy and playing some great volleyball right now. You can’t count out Holy Names (once ranked No. 1 and playing well again) or Lakeside, another battle-tested Metro team.

Mount Si – which moved up from No. 3 to No. 2 this week – is in the bottom half of the bracket and would love to meet Mercer Island for a fifth time of the season, which would be for the state title. All four of the five meetings to date have gone five sets, and one was 3-1.

But the Wildcats will be tested early. They start with Glacier Peak, which has been a bit up and down but watch out if they’re up. Then there would be either No. 7 Southridge or No. 10 Timberline – that’s a tough first-rounder right there. Southridge could be a dark horse in this tournament, finally healthy and playing well at the right time. And Timberline is dangerous, too.

The bottom quarter bracket is brutal, too. Look at No. 4 Seattle Prep vs. No. 6 Columbia River – both teams can do damage in the tourney. And the winner could get No. 5 Shorewood.

But my pick, if I’ve gotta (and if you’ve read my stuff for very long, you know I really don’t like predictions): Mercer Island.

Class 2A – Here’s the one tournament with three defending champions: Burlington-Edison (2A champs last year), West Valley of Yakima (unbeaten in 3A last year) and Colville (1A champs in 2011).

After heavy graduation losses, B-E started a little slowly this season. But the Tigers proved they don’t plan to let go of that 2A title easily by knocking off Anacortes (then ranked No. 4) for in the final of the Northwest District tournament.

Probably the second biggest surprise to me out of all the district/regional tournaments, after Prairie’s late fizzle, was West Valley’s loss to Selah – after two regular-season victories over the Vikings. And it wasn’t close, 3-0.

West Valley has been my No. 1 for most of the season. And I still think the Rams could win it all this weekend. It would be a long road, starting with No. 7 Capital and then possibly No. 4 B-E. They could get another bout with No. 3 Selah in the semis.

The bottom half of the bracket is loaded with No. 1 Colville, No. 2 Tumwater, No. 6 Anacortes and No. 10 East Valley of Yakima. I see Colville and Tumwater in the semis.

And my pick: Tumwater.

Class 1A, 2B and 1B — I’ve had my hands full trying to keep tabs on the top three classifications, so I appreciate the efforts of the Coaches Association putting together rankings for the smaller three (in addition to the larger three – it’s always great to have another perspective).

In 1A, top-ranked Castle Rock and No. 2 Lakeside of Nine Mile Falls are in opposite halves of the bracket and could meet in the final. Watch out for No. 3 Annie Wright of Tacoma, though, which could have a shot at Lakeside in the semis.

In 2B, you’ve got No. 1 Colfax and No. 2 Bear Creak both in the top half of the bracket, meaning they could meet in the semifinals. And No. 3 Reardan, the two-time defending champion, is in the bottom half along with No. 4 Pe Ell.

In 1B, you’re looking at a potential quarterfinal matchup between No. 1 Tekoa-Oaksdale and No. 2 Pateros in the upper half. No. 3 Colton and No. 4 Wilbur-Creston are in the bottom half and could clash in the semis.

So, my wild guesses: Annie Wright (sentimental pick), Bear Creek (ditto on the sentiments) and Tekoa-Oaksdale (they’re the defending champs after all, although I’d love to see little ol’ Rainier Christian from Auburn – ranked No. 9 make some noise).

Jackson hopes for more title action

I remember when a sophomore-laden Jackson team took the 4A tournament by storm in 2010 under new head coach Ashley Allen. They showed no fear and lived up to their we’re-here-to-win-it bravado.

They envisioned another title last year – and I admit I had them pegged as repeat champions as well. They returned to the semifinals, then lost to both Olympia (the eventual champion) and Curtis, winding up fourth.

“All of the girls were extremely disappointed with last year’s finish,” Allen said. “They went in fully expecting to win.”

The Timberwolves () come in confident again, but they aren’t likely to take anyone lightly, as they seemed to last year after two fairly easy opening wins. Allen sees Gig Harbor as a quality first-round opponent on Friday.

“I think the challenge will be good for them,” she said.

The T-Wolves have challenged themselves in the second half of the season not just to win, but dominate. They have not lost a set since a 3-1 win over Lynnwood on Oct. 16.

“We don’t want just to win, we want to play well and do it the right way,” Allen said.

Their only in-state loss was to Mead at the Spokane Crossover last month, and they are anxious for a rematch – which could come in the championship match.

“But we’ve got a lot of good teams to get through before we get to them,” Allen said.

The focus is on one point, one set, one match at a time – the usual coach-speak. Like most teams, Jackson is focusing on fine-tuning their serve-receive and passing.

“We’ve still got a few things we’re working on in practice,” Allen said. “But we’re on a good road right now. They’re almost there.”

Two other WesCo teams are in the field – Monroe and Lake Stevens – and Allen said both have the potential to do well.

“But I don’t think either one of them is going to win it, because I plan on us winning,” she added.

Skyline playing sky-high, just like last year

Once again, Skyline is on the rise at the right time.

Last year, the Spartans came on strong at the end of the season and won a pigtail match to earn a trip to the 4A state tourney for the first time since 2006. They weren’t satisfied just getting there, either. They upset Bellarmine Prep in the opening round and wound up placing a school-best fifth.

Despite losing their biggest hitter (Maddie Magee) and setter (Madison Stoa), the Spartans have made their way back – this time as the No. 1 seed out of KingCo. They upset Newport (then ranked No. 5) in the championship match of the league tournament, 3-1.

That avenged an early 3-0 loss to the Knights that came more than a month earlier.

“It’s the same as last year, we’re starting to peak at the right time,” coach Cassie Wesson said. “I think once we hit playoffs, we started getting more consistent.”

That early loss to Newport proved to be a big motivating factor.

“Back then, we were still figuring out lineups and they figured it out big-time,” Wesson said. “They didn’t like that feeling after losing the first time to Newport. They wanted to meet them again in the district final and prove to themselves they could do better than that.”

Without Magee, Skyline features a more balanced offense this year.

“If we’re in trouble, we have a lot of girls who can put the ball down,” Wesson said. “We don’t just have one big gun. We have options.”

The development of two sophomore setters – Katy Valencia and Meghan Wedeking – has been key.

“They filled some big shoes,” Wesson said.

Valencia was the JV setter last year and Wedeking is a transfer from Colorado.

The team has eyed a return to state all season, according to the coach.

“Last year, we did it the hard way,” Wesson said. “This year, state was a goal from the get-go. They wanted to get back there and be competitive again. It’s been a whole different mentality all season.”

Bonney Lake digs deep to earn first state berth

A lot of teams face extra challenges during the post-season – injuries, illnesses, personal issues. Bonney Lake was one of those teams last weekend. But the Panthers persevered at the West Central/Southwest Bi-District tourney and earned a state berth for the first time in school history.

As noted earlier, they knocked off Prairie (then ranked No. 2) in the semifinals and wound up second.

We didn’t have anyone at the tournament and coach Shirley Baker shared this story in an e-mail Monday, which she originally sent to the staff at Bonney Lake:

“What a crazy weekend for our volleyball team. The News Tribune story regarding the 3A district volleyball tournament focused on the victors, Columbia River, but the true tale of the tournament revolved around our team, the Mighty Panthers, who have turned into the little team with the biggest heart.

Our story begins Friday night as we were warming up to play Kennedy. We beat Kennedy in five sets to win the first round of the sub-district tournament. On Friday, as the home team, we took the floor for the first five minute warm up. About three minutes into the warm up, while we were scrimmaging, Lisa Demick severely sprained her ankle. She was unable to bear weight on her foot and she was out for the match, and as it turned out, for the entire tournament. Complicating this was two of my other players, Dani Downing and Miranda Jeter, were home with the flu that has been running through the toddler room at Panther Cubs. So as a team, we were down three key players.

We faced Kennedy – and won – with a line up we had never even practiced before. I moved Kylie Acuna into the spot Lisa normally plays, and I switched Ciara Tyler to the outside hitter position normally played by Kylie, with Shelby Stubbs playing back row for Ciara. Both Ciara and Shelby usually play on the right side of the court, now they were both playing on the left side. While this seems insignificant, imagine being right handed and suddenly being forced to use your left hand for everything. That was the situation these girls faced, and they both did so with courage and determination. We ended up beating Kennedy in five sets to secure our first ever appearance in the state tournament!

Saturday morning had us face perennial volleyball powerhouse, Prairie, of the Greater Saint Helens League. Prairie was the GSL champion, and they have a tradition of district championships, and they have multiple state appearances and placings in their history. Prairie is always very tall and this year was no exception. The tallest player on my team is Vegas Casey at 5’11; Prairie had a players listed at 6’2, 6’0, two at 5’11, and multiple girls at 5’9. The average height for our team is 5’6!. Dani Downing returned from her illness and took over the outside hitter position played by Ciara on Friday. Dani is usually my first player off the bench for an outside hitter. So we were still playing with only four starters on the court in their regular positions. This match brought incredible performances by Dori Drllevich, Taylor Moss, Dana Alderson, and Ashtyn Bagby. Every girl on the court gave more than what she had to push our team forward. After winning the first two sets, and leading in the third, our team lost focus and we lost sets three and four. But in set 5, we rallied and crushed Prairie, putting us into the final match to play for first and second.

We played in the district final only 90 minutes after finishing our Prairie match. Imagine doing any hard labor for two hours, resting for 90 minutes, then turning around and doing it again. That was the situation faced by my team. Columbia River ended up defeating us in three straight sets in the final. My team just didn’t have anything more to give; they were spent mentally and physically after all of the hardship we endured over the weekend.

But I am so, so proud of them and I know you would be too. At our first practice as a team, the day after we had made “cuts,” I asked the girls what they wanted to remember about this season, looking back on it 10 years from now. Every one of them, individually, wrote down they wanted to remember playing at state and being a family. We have accomplished both tasks. We are the little team with the biggest hearts, and I will do my best to help them achieve every high school athletes’ biggest dream – coming home from the state tournament with a trophy.”

In a follow-up e-mail, Baker pointed out a further hardship the team dealt with — another key player, Shelby Stubbs, heard Saturday morning that her maternal grandmother had passed away.

“Shelby found out just as we started warm-up for Columbia River,” Baker wrote. “Shelby still played her heart out, but it was an emotionally draining weekend for our whole team.”

Annie Wright eyes the 1A title

With more than 100 high-schools in our coverage area (King and Snohomish Counties), I rarely am able to spend much time and energy on “outside” teams.

I’m making a bit of an exception for Annie Wright, a private 1A school in Tacoma – in part because it’s an interesting story and because there is a bit of a “local” connection. Their coach is Rodney Kalalau, former coach at Curtis (OK, Curtis is technically out of our coverage area, too, down in University Place, but we do cover the Vikings a bit as part of the SPSL).

Kalalau is in his seventh year at Annie Wright. The program’s first state appearance was in 2006, his first year at the helm. The Gators returned every year except 2010, placing fifth in 2009.

This is a special season for Kalalau in part because he has a daughter, Lani, on the team. She played at Curtis as a sophomore and was part of the team that went to the state tournament and finished 1-2. She was an All-SPSL South Division second-team choice as a setter.

Lani (5-8) transferred to Annie Wright last year, but was ruled ineligible to play and had to sit the season out. She is now a senior and the team’s floor leader, leading them in kills (156) and digs (127). She has signed with Western Oregon.

The team includes only eight players on varsity and coach Kalalau singled out two others for their role in the team’s success – juniors Margaux Arnston (6-1) and Tori Smith (6-0). Both earned first-team honors in the All-Emerald City voting last season. Arnston leads the team in blocks (20) and is second in kills (112). Smith is third in kills (86) and second in digs (85).

The Gators have met two of their major goals this season – winning the league and district titles, both for the first time in school history. They didn’t drop a set in league or district play. At district, they knocked off perennial-power King’s, then ranked No. 2, in the semifinals and then beat Life Christian in the championship.

Annie Wright wasn’t ranked by the Coaches Association at the time, but jumped in the final poll at No. 3.

The Gators have one more goal on their list, Kalalau said – a state title.

Bear Creek would welcome another shot at Reardan

You’d think Bear Creek would cringe at the thought of playing Reardan again at the Class 2B state tournament.

After all, the Grizzlies’ lone losses the past two years at state have come against the eventual stat champions – both times in the quarterfinals. They went on to finish fourth in 2010 and fifth in 2011 (when the order of placings was changed).

But the team would welcome another opportunity this weekend.

“We’d like to play Reardan again, in the final,” coach Sherrie Brown said. “That’s the only place we can play them.”

Finally, the two teams are on opposite sides of the bracket. Of course, Reardan isn’t coming in as the tourney favorite this time, at least according to the Coaches Association, which has the team ranked No. 3 behind Colfax and Bear Creek.

Bear Creek could meet Colfax in the semifinals.

Some might remember Brown as a successful coach at Mount Si in the 1990s. She spent eight seasons there and took her 1994 team to state. She left in 2000 to start the program at Bear Creek, where she taught (note that Bonnie Foote took over at Mount Si and the Wildcats have been annual contenders with four 3A state trophies in the past five years).

The first season, Bear Creek played a varsity schedule with eighth- and ninth-graders. After she got the program established, Brown said she took a couple of years off to watch her son play soccer. This is her fifth year back and the Grizzlies are seeking their fourth straight trophy (they placed eighth in 2009).

Two of the team’s four seniors will be playing extensively in their fourth state tournament – Makena Schoene (6-2 OH) and Michele Brown (5-8 setter). Schoene is the daughter of former SuperSonics player Russ Schoene. Brown is the coach’s daughter.

Morgan Cadigan (5-8 OH) also made the trip to state as a freshman, but didn’t play much.

Eight seniors graduated from last year’s team and coach Brown said Alyssa Jenson (5-8 OH), the only other senior returning, has stepped up to help fuel this year’s run.

This year’s team is 22-1 with their lone loss coming against an Oregon team in the small-school division of the SunDome Festival. One of the victories came against Eastlake, which just missed qualifying for the 4A state tournament.

The Grizzlies won their third straight SeaTac 2B league title this season, but their Bi-District 1 / 2 championship was a first. LaConner used to have a strangle-hold on that, but Bear Creak beat them 3-1 in last Saturday’s final.

Coach Brown said the key to the team’s success has been the fact that they play well together, and they’re tall. In addition to Schoene, junior MH Catherine Fernandez is 6-2.

Best of luck to Bear Creek at state – and the same to all of the other local teams. It’s always great to see some championship hardware make its way to the Greater Seattle area.

Information in this post, originally published Nov. 7, 2012, was corrected Nov. 7, 2012. A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that Mercer Island and Mount Si have played three times this season, rather than four.

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