LYNDEN - Lynden Christian coach Kim Grycel knew she wanted a tall sophomore at setter and Nooksack Valley coach Jennifer Simmons knew she would rely on a short senior at power hitter.
After their teams took two of three matches in the marathon Class 1A Northwest District Tournament at Lynden Christian on Saturday, Oct. 27, the pressure is still on in order to quality for state.
McKenzie Impero, a 5-foot-6 hitter who seems to play at least six inches taller, had a combined 38 kills to lead Nooksack Valley over Coupeville 3-1 and South Whidbey 3-2, clinching a spot in the one-day Tri-District Tournament on Saturday, Nov. 3, at King's High School. The Pioneers then finished second at district with a 3-0 loss to undefeated state title hopeful King's (17-0).
"Now we face a loser-out game in the first round at tri-district," said Simmons. "If we win, we go to state."
Lynden Christian's situation is even tougher. The Lyncs opened an 11-hour day with a 3-1 win over Mount Baker, then lost to King's 3-0 in the semifinals. The weary Lyncs responded to loser-out pressure with a 3-0 sweep to eliminate Friday Harbor, led by tireless 6-foot setter Madison Weg, who had numerous accurate assists in the 11th and final match of the day.
"Now we have to finish the district tournament on Tuesday night (Oct. 30) against South Whidbey in a loser-out match at a neutral site," said Grycel, whose teams have won 13 trophies during 15 consecutive state tournament appearances. "Then we have to win two matches at tri-district in order to get to state."
South Whidbey eliminated Mount Baker 3-1 after the Mountaineers ended Meridian's season 3-1. Meridian opened with a 3-0 loss to King's. In other matches, South Whidbey opened with a 3-1 win over Friday Harbor and Friday Harbor eliminated Coupeville 3-0 in the second round.
"You could see how much leadership they (senior setter McKinna Larson and Impero) give Nooksack," said King's coach Jeff Fransen, whose team prevailed 25-22, 25-12 and 25-15 and wound up sweeping nine games in three matches with a combined 225-149 domination. "(Impero) is obviously a spark plug."
Larson served the final six points in the 25-15, 19-25, 25-18, 23-25, 15-9 semifinal win over South Whidbey. She said the first-round match at tri-district will be the chance to fulfill her dream of playing in three state tournaments in three sports since Larson hasn't been to state volleyball yet.
Impero's hustle was evident with a team-leading 14 digs and 9 kills against King's. Lindsay Hayes, a junior middle blocker, had 10 digs.
Nooksack's stats were strong and balanced in the long victory over South Whidbey: Impero (21 digs, 15 kills), Taryn Tenkley (9 kills), Mariah Perry (17 digs), Larson (31 assists, 3 aces) and Kylee Dekoekkoek (4 blocks). Impero had 23 kills and Hayes 20 didgs in the 25-17, 25-21, 22-25, 25-22 win over Coupeville.
Considering the emotional impact of Lynden Christian's Northwest Conference loss to Nooksack Valley earlier in the week, plus the loss to King's in the second round, Grycel said she was proud of how her players responded to mental adversity by taking the two matches they had to take.
"I really liked how Madison Weg played setter against Friday Harbor on such a long day," said Grycel. "I coach the eighth-grade team, too, and I knew Madison would make a fine setter even though she's tall. And she likes it there."
Cassie Mulder led the Lyncs in their 25-16, 25-19, 25-18 loser-out victory over the Wolverines with 11 digs and 9 kills. Junior hitter Karley De Jager had several ferocious hits and finished with 8 kills and 3 aces to go with Weg's 23 assists. Morgan Van Kooten had 4 blocks and Hannah Wynstra blocked 3 shots.
LC's 10 a.m. win over Mount Baker was led by Mulder and Kayla Tiemersma with 10 kills each. Tiemersma, one of seven regulars in the Lyncs' rotation standing from 5-foot-11 to 6-foot-1, scored five aces and Weg logged 35 assists in the 25-10, 25-14, 19-25, 25-21 win over the competitive Mountaineers, who bounced back to eliminate Meridian before being ousted by South Whidbey.
"Karley De Jager had been sick for two days before today, so she really did well to come back so strong," said Grycel. "To come back and get two wins on such a long day, I'm just really proud."