Mercer Island tops Skyline in clash of powers

September 17, 2013

By Neil Pierson

There aren’t many drawbacks to playing a quality, out-of-conference opponent to start the season, even if you lose.

That’s the way the Skyline High School volleyball team viewed its 3-1 loss to visiting Mercer Island on Sept. 9. Skyline’s defense played well early, but the relentless attack of the Islanders’ star outside hitters eventually wore them down in a 19-25, 25-18, 25-21, 25-22 decision.

Skyline High School senior Crystal Anderson gets set to serve during her team’s match with Mercer Island on Sept. 9. Anderson had 14 kills and 12 digs in the Spartans’ 3-1 loss.

Skyline High School senior Crystal Anderson gets set to serve during her team’s match with Mercer Island on Sept. 9. Anderson had 14 kills and 12 digs in the Spartans’ 3-1 loss.

Both teams entered the season-opener with big expectations — Skyline was ranked No. 8 in Class 4A; Mercer Island was No. 3 in 3A — and nothing changed for the Spartans, even though they fell short.

“It’s kind of just motivation. Like, if we lose now, we’ve got to win later,” said Skyline’s Molly Mounsey, a senior middle blocker. “We’re setting ourselves up to become a better team, which we know we are.”

The Islanders finished seventh at last year’s state tournament, and presented the kind of challenge the Spartans want. Skyline head coach Callie Wesson said the teams met a few days earlier at Mercer Island’s jamboree, and the Islanders were “out for blood a little bit” after the Spartans emerged victorious.

“We get to pick our preseason matches, and I always contact Mercer Island when I can, because I always know they’re going to have great squads,” Wesson said. “It’s great to get that good competition, because that’s when you really see what your team is made of.”

The Spartans opened the match with some spectacular defense and took a 1-0 lead. Starting libero Emily Anne Owen, who finished with a match-high 15 digs, led the way as Skyline kept several points alive and took advantage of five Mercer Island serving errors.

But the Islanders ironed out their mistakes as the match wore on, and they consistently fed their big offensive weapons. Setter Natalie Robinson dished out 36 assists, the bulk of them to Jemma Yeadon (24 kills) and Sara Lindquist (22 kills).

Conversely, Skyline struggled to find its best hitters. Crystal Anderson had a team-high 14 kills, with Hanna Erdahl adding nine and Mounsey collecting seven.

Wesson indicated those numbers had little to do with how the hitters performed.

“We need to pass the ball better,” she said. “We have great hitters, but if we can’t give them the ball, then it kind of breaks down right from the get-go.”

Mounsey agreed.

“That’s the hard part about being a middle — if the pass isn’t good, you can’t hit,” she said. “I have to rely on the passers more than anyone else does, because the outside (hitters) can get set on a bad pass, but I can’t get set on a bad pass.”

Skyline has two capable setters in juniors Megan Wedeking and Katy Valencia, but an injury sent Wedeking to the bench midway through the match. Both players finished with 15 assists each.

Wesson indicated they’ll continue sharing time until one player distinguishes herself.

“It’s just kind of figuring out who’s jelling good with who, and who’s kind of stepping up to the plate,” the coach said. “But if our passing is not there, then our hitters can’t be there.”

Mercer Island built seemingly safe leads early in the third and fourth sets, only to watch Skyline come roaring back in both cases.

In the third set, the Islanders’ biggest lead was 17-9, but two kills from Erdahl helped the Spartans narrows the gap to 21-18. Yeadon, a 5-foot-9 sophomore, took over from there, spiking the ball into the floor three times.

It was a similar story in the fourth set. Mercer Island took a 17-10 lead before Skyline slowly chipped away. Back-to-back kills from Anderson put the Spartans’ deficit at 22-21, but after an Islanders timeout, they got the three points they needed, all from Yeadon’s right arm.

None of the Spartans were hanging their heads after the result.

“It’s our first match this season, so we expected a little confusion,” Mounsey explained. “We all could’ve played a little better, but I know we went all out. We’ll pick it up from here — I know we will.”

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