FERNDALE - Nobody knows the challenge of playing Sehome better than the Mariners themselves.
It's almost as though a match provides a small escape from coach Kristy White's high-intensity practices where Sehome's talent-rich group faces each other on a daily basis.
And players such as Sehome 6-foot-1 middle Erika Smith know too well the challenge of handling a pass from one of the Mariners' many strong hitters.
"I definitely have empathy (for other teams)," Smith said. "Passing Dani's (Johnson) hits sometimes are hard. I know how they feel."
Ferndale got to know the feeling all night. Johnson, a 5-foot-11 outside who can make every hit, Taylor Lyall, Smith, Emily Greer and right-side Danielle Strasser kept the Golden Eagles' defense guessing during a 25-16, 25-18, 25-20 Northwest Conference win Tuesday, Oct. 1, at Ferndale High School.
With an exception to trailing 1-0 in both the first and third set, the No. 7-ranked Mariners (6-0, 4-0 NWC) stayed in front at all times during the three-match sweep. Johnson led Sehome with a game-high 16 kills, using an array of power shots, finesse shots, tips and pin-point placement that had Ferndale's inexperienced back row seemingly always one move behind.
Smith put away 10 kills, many of which came off her high elevations above the net when she could use her height and arm length to find an open space to hit straight down onto Ferndale's side of the floor. Lyall did a bit of everything, recording eight kills and eight digs. She also displayed her serving ability with four aces. Setter Megan Greer had a team-high 33 assists, and libero Casey Grosso made 16 digs.
"We like to make their job a little bit harder on defense, so that way they don't know if we're coming from the middle or outside," White said. "That takes a lot of pressure off the outsides, so it doesn't feel like they are carrying the weight of the team."
Sehome now has won 13 straight sets since losing the third set of a four-game win against Anacortes on Sept. 17.
Ferndale (3-3, 2-2 NWC), which was missing three regulars due to injury, started and played several players with no prior varsity experience. The Golden Eagles fell behind early in each set before playing the Mariners even most of the rest of the way.
Sehome strung together a 6-0 run to take a 6-1 lead in the first set before extending to a 12-5 advantage midway through. The Mariners opened the second set with a 10-3 run, and Sehome earned seven of the next eight points after leading only 11-10 in the final game.
"Sehome is a really good team," Ferndale coach Patti Hoelzle said. "They are a well-oiled machine. Taylor is a really strong player and can place the ball around, and they did a good job of picking on our freshman."
Ferndale freshman hitter Whitney Walker provided the Golden Eagles with a strong presence on the outside, recording a team-best seven kills. Senior Hannah Pitsch gave Ferndale a similar presence in the middle with five kills.
Despite the loss, Hoelzle found reason to be optimistic.
"Even though the score didn't reflect it, both sides were scrappy," she said. "It was hard-fought volleyball, and when we needed to be aggressive, we got a little tentative, which is the sign of young players."
This was the second meeting this year between the two schools. Sehome won the first matchup 3-1 in Bellingham. The Mariners now have won four straight against Ferndale dating back to a 3-2 loss in 2010.
Sehome hosts Mount Baker next at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3, while Ferndale travels to play Blaine at 7 p.m. the same night.
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862.
Reach ANDREW LANG at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.