Spartans secure third state berth in a row

November 12, 2013

By Neil Pierson

By Greg Farrar Brianna Hodges (left) and Crystal Anderson, Skyline High School seniors, return an Eastlake volley during the first set of their KingCo 4A volleyball tournament championship match Nov. 5 in the Spartan gymnasium. Skyline won, 25-17, 25-11, 25-17.

By Greg Farrar
Molly Gallaher (left), Skyline High School sophomore, and senior Crystal Anderson return an Eastlake volley during the first set of their KingCo 4A volleyball tournament championship match Nov. 5 in the Spartan gymnasium. Skyline won, 25-17, 25-11, 25-17.

When the Skyline and Eastlake volleyball teams met in a regular-season match Oct. 21, Skyline let down its guard and nearly let Eastlake back into contention.

When the rival programs met again Nov. 5 in the KingCo Conference tournament with a berth into the Class 4A state tournament at stake, the Spartans didn’t let history repeat itself.

Second-seeded Skyline controlled the match from start to finish, and sewed up its third consecutive state appearance with a 25-17, 25-11, 25-17 sweep of the sixth-seeded Wolves at the Skyline gymnasium.

In the teams’ previous meeting, Skyline soared to a 2-0 lead before Eastlake rallied and forced a fourth set. But in the rematch, the Spartans kept their game faces on and pulled away after trailing midway through the third set.

“The third game has always been a bit of a struggle for us, and so we knew that we’ve got to come out of the gate and do our job, because we knew that these guys were not going to go quietly,” Spartans head coach Callie Wesson said. “We definitely needed to come out and play our game, and keep ourselves pumped up, and that’s what we did.”

Skyline (14-2) set the tone for the match by winning nine of the first 10 points in the first set. Senior outside hitter Crystal Anderson dominated early, producing eight of her match-high 12 kills.

Eastlake (9-7) struggled to formulate a consistent attack, and the Spartans’ sisterhood of Molly and Katy Mounsey caused headaches for the Wolves at the net, combining for five blocks.

The Wolves entered the match on a high after rallying from two sets down for a 3-2 win against Issaquah in the Nov. 2 tourney opener.

The Wolves missed chances against Skyline, striking several hits out of bounds, into the net and into the Spartans’ blockers. Other chances were negated by Emily Anne Owen, the Spartans’ senior libero who earned the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award.

Owen didn’t have big numbers against Eastlake, finishing with 10 digs, but her on-court presence throughout the season has been invaluable for Wesson.

“There’s plays that, normally, other teams would be done,” the coach said, “and she keeps it alive for us and gives us another opportunity, which is definitely key to getting rid of the ball and giving us points.”

Owen said it was “awesome” to earn the nod as KingCo’s top defender.

“It’s obviously a huge honor, but my teammates push me hard in practice, and that’s why I’m good,” she said.

The Spartans broke free from an early deadlock in the second set, winning 20 of the last 26 points. Two big serving runs – the first from Molly Mounsey, the second from Anderson – sparked Skyline, which also used a short-set attack through the middle to devastating success.

Molly Mounsey collected most of her 11 kills through the short sets of Meghan Wedeking (15 assists) and Katy Valencia (16 assists).

In the third set, Eastlake played better and built a 10-5 lead, but the Wolves’ momentum slowly unraveled through a series of hitting errors and Molly Mounsey’s play at the net.

Skyline advanced to the Nov. 7 conference championship match against Newport, which defeated Bothell in the other winner-to-state contest Nov. 5.

Owen said it was important for the Spartans to maintain their strong play against top-seeded Newport, and locking up the highest seed possible could theoretically help them get an easier path through the state bracket.

The Spartans won a sixth-place trophy in 2011, but were shut out last season after two losses in three matches. They feel they have the ability to win more hardware.

“These last two years, we’ve built up a good reputation and improved our standing,” Owen said, “so it’s nice to kind of prove that we deserve to be here.”

Wesson said the players have displayed the desire of championship-caliber team and are continually improving.

“Every day we’re working on things,” she said. “Every single day, the kids are still asking, ‘What can I do? Where should I go? … And if they want to keep learning, I’ll keep teaching, and we’ll keep getting better.”


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