Bellingham uses Baker Invite to prep for big week

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDOctober 26, 2013 

Sage Ferguson, a senior at Bellingham High School, tips the ball back over the net during the Mount Baker Invitational volleyball tournament Saturday, October 26, 2013, at Mount Baker High School. Nearly a dozen high school teams competed in the day long tournament, which ended with Brewster High School taking first place and Kentlake High School taking second.

DANIEL PICKARD — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

DEMING - Izzi Roberts missed the pool play portion of the Mount Baker Invite while taking a college admissions test, but the high-leaping Bellingham senior applied herself with a smart approach against an intelligent opponent in her only match of the day.

As the tournament moved on, Bellingham's competitive 25-21, 25-21 loser-out defeat to eventual tournament Gold Division champion Brewster on Saturday, Oct. 26, seemed like ideal preparation for the Red Raiders' biggest week of volleyball since the school re-opened in 2000.

When the Red Raiders (7-5 overall, 5-5 Northwest Conference) play at Mount Baker on Monday and at Ferndale on Wednesday to conclude the regular season, a Northwest District Class 2A Tournament berth will be on the line along with a possible long-sought shot at a state tournament spot for coach Kim Bjorklund, who is in her 11th season.

The Red Raiders, who are bidding for their first winning season since the school re-opened, are competing with Squalicum (6-5 NWC) and Anacortes (5-5 NWC) for districts. Only two of the three can make it along with unbeaten state trophy hopefuls Sehome and Burlington-Edison.

"That would really make my senior year, along with a top-three place in the long jump at state track," said Roberts, who said she is strongly considering Western Washington University for track and field. "I'm hoping this is the right year."

Bjorklund knows state is a mighty high objective for her team -- "If we're firing on all cannons, yes, we can make it," she said -- but she has already gained the satisfaction of seeing her program surpass her season best of five victories, plus posting winning junior varsity and C seasons.

Unfortunately for Bjorklund, she'll lose seven seniors, most of whom have been preparing together while hoping to make Bellingham volleyball history since they were in seventh grade.

Sophomore right-side hitter Summer Douglas, junior outside hitter Olivia Bjorklund and junior middle blocker Anna Zeegers are all standouts around whom the coach will continue her steady construction job.

Roberts, senior libero Tess Owen, setter Kellie Hofstetter and outside hitter Sage Ferguson all are seniors, so Bjorklund is counting on their continued sense of urgency, along with reserve help from seniors Catie Welch and Olivia Witt.

Brewster, a perennial small-school sports powerhouse, makes few mistakes and showed just how tough it could be with a 25-19, 29-27 victory over Class 4A Kentlake in the championship match.

Bellingham was tied 18-all in the first game against Brewster, in large part thanks to several kills by the 6-foot-1 Zeegers, before succumbing to Brewster's power hitting. In the second set, in which Roberts scored four artistic kills of various types along with an ace, the Red Raiders trailed only 19-18 before Brewster scored six of the final eight points.

The Red Raiders also suffered a pool play sweep to state hopeful Lakewood, which Bjorklund figures could only help Bellingham if they meet at district.

Also in pool play, the Red Raiders swept Darrington, which beat Blaine 25-18, 25-18 for the Silver Division trophy after the Loggers eliminated Meridian in the first round. Bellingham did not get to play Elma, which dropped out of what usually is a 12-team event.

First-year Blaine coach Bryan Clausen, who was a volleyball official last season, was nonetheless proud of his Borderites, who played 14 sets with enthusiasm on a long, long day of more than 9 hours of volleyball.

"The girls have improved tremendously," said Clausen, considering how the Borderites endured a winless record last season. "They have really impressed me. They're really learning to bear down."

The Borderites, who won 3 of 9 sets in pool play, displayed that improved focus in their 25-16, 24-26, 15-8 win over Riverside Christian in the Silver Division semifinals.

Blaine sophomore setter Brittany Newton served aces for the 13th and 14th points, following an exhibition of power hitting by juniors Elle Moore and Mandy Hayes along with several valuable points by tall junior middle blocker Mikayla Deming.

Blaine led only 6-5 before going on a 9-3 splurge against Riverside Christian, while shaking off memories of a second-set loss after Blaine led 20-15 on a clever flip-kill by Newton.

Mount Baker, hopeful of a strong Class 1A Northwest District showing, won six of nine sets in pool play, giving the Mountaineers a Gold Division entry. Baker then was swept by Bellevue's Forest Ridge in a loser-out match.

"We played really well and we're definitely improved," said Baker coach Mary LeSage. "We definitely cut down our unforced errors. We're a very young team."

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