LYNDEN - If Lynden Christian returns to the state volleyball tournament for the 17th consecutive year, seniors Karley De Jager and Hannah Wynstra are convinced they won't be overconfident but they will have more fun.
The Lyncs played with a remarkable focus at the end of all three sets as they beat South Whidbey 25-20, 25-13, 25-20 in the championship semifinals of the Class 1A Northwest District Tournament on Wednesday, Oct. 30.
LC (14-2) won the final five points of the first set, last four of the second set, and the final five of the third set while clinching a berth in the Tri-District Tournament next week. The Lyncs will play at 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, again on their home court, against perennial rival King's for the district title and a top seed.
De Jager and Wynstra, two of LC's five starters listed at 6-feet or taller - and the Lyncs' only starting seniors - say they have plenty of bad memories to expunge of last year's 0-2 miseries at state.
"We weren't expecting 0-2," said Wynstra. "But we learned not to underestimate the other teams. We had felt pretty unstoppable."
De Jager agreed, saying everyone is far better focused this season.
"We didn't always flow well together last season, but we work together so well this year," said power hitter De Jager, who led the Lyncs with 10 kills against the Falcons. "There's no drama. This is our best feeling so far. We have so much fun together."
De Jager was thrilled to see the Lyncs rebound from an emotionally tough 3-0 loss to Class 2A state tournament hopeful Sehome.
"We're very happy we played our game after such a tough loss," De Jager said, also including a 25-7, 25-8, 25-7 first-round victory over Meridian earlier Wednesday.
That's what made Grycel especially happy, too.
"We had our confidence shaken a little bit with that loss to Sehome," said the longtime coach, whose teams have claimed state trophies in all but two of their previous 16 seasons yet are still looking for their first state title. "To beat a good team like South Whidbey in three sets was encouraging. I felt we controlled the match, even when it was close, and we executed our scouting plan well."
The Lyncs displayed the offensive versatility that enabled them to win 21 of 28 sets against Class 2A/3A competitors in the Northwest Conference, other than their 3-0 losses to Class 2A state hopefuls Burlington-Edison and Sehome.
With the win over South Whidbey, LC extended its set record to 21-0 against 1A teams as junior Madison Weg had nine kills and three aces and 6-foot-1 sophomore Kara Bajema recorded eight kills and 10 digs.
Junior libero Emily Veening scooped 11 digs and and 6-foot junior Morgan Van Kooten had three blocks.
Junior setter Carli Tjoelker was often all over the court, almost always in perfect position to assist her taller teammates, and junior Erika Shaw also contributed numerous alert plays.
In the first set against South Whidbey, Weg served eight consecutive points as the Lyncs claimed a 10-3 lead. But the Falcons, also looking like a state tournament caliber team, rallied to tie it at 20-all before the Lyncs' poise prevailed along with a kill by freshman Hannah Rusnak for a 23-20 lead.
The Lyncs jumped to an 8-0 lead in the second set as they showed what a balanced team they are with kills by Bajema, De Jager, Tjoelker and Weg in the opening moments. The power-hitting De Jager scored on nifty backline kills for two of the final three points of the second set, including the set-winner.
The Falcons again looked sharp for a 20-all tie in the third set, but at that point the Lyncs refused to make any errors and just made accurate shots. Van Kooten's kill at the net gave LC a 24-20 advantage.
South Whidbey had several noteworthy efforts, including 13 digs and six kills by Mackenzie Hezel, 12 digs by Chantel Brown, seven kills and four digs by Anne Madsen, seven kills by Abby Hodson and 22 assists by Meagan Longdon. South Whidbey earlier beat Friday Harbor 25-17, 25-14, 25-14.
Grycel was able to get all 14 players action against Meridian (1-15). The Trojans were then eliminated by Friday Harbor 25-16, 25-15, 25-18 despite outstanding efforts in the dig department by Claire Burkett (18), Allecia Gallindo (17), Sarah Mack (15) and Ellie Dennis (13), plus nine kills by Amber Murphy. Burkett was injured early against LC but fought back to play an outstanding season-ending match.
For the Lyncs against Meridian, Wynstra scored on a kill to end the second set and on a block for match point. Veening had eight digs, and Weg and De Jager led with seven and six kills.
"There were all kinds of great, long rallies," said coach Shannon Claeys of her team's effort against Friday Harbor.
Claeys felt her young team, which had only one senior starter, made progress this season and is devoted enough to improve in the off-season.
"We have a big group of strong sophomores and some good juniors," she said. "They're all going to play club in the off-season, and we also have a lot of girls in our district playing U14 and U12 volleyball. We have some really good talent in the younger classes."