LYNDEN - Nooksack Valley's crew of young defensive hustlers turned in a remarkable 210 digs over eight sets in two consolation round victories, while Lynden Christian's youthful squad tantalized its fans with comebacks in all three sets of a district title loss.
That sums up a long, long afternoon and evening on Saturday, Nov. 2, in the Class 1A Northwest District finals as the host Lyncs fell to state title contender King's 3-0 in a better performance than that score indicates.
Meanwhile, Nooksack Valley saved its season with a 3-1 victory over Friday Harbor in a loser-out match, then defeated South Whidbey 3-1 to claim third place. Mount Baker, yet another young squad that bids to make next year intriguing, saw its season end with a 3-0 loss to South Whidbey in the other loser-out match.
King's, the Cascade Conference champion, already has clinched a spot in the state tournament and earned the right to go directly to the Tri-District Tournament championship match on Saturday, Nov. 9.
Lynden Christian, Nooksack Valley and South Whidbey - all of which often played with the fire of genuine state tournament hopefuls - will play first-round loser-out Tri District matches on Thursday, Nov. 7. The Lyncs will play at home against an opponent to be determined, while the Pioneers and Falcons will learn Sunday about their opponents and sites.
"King's just didn't make as many mistakes," said LC coach Kim Grycel, whose team most recently beat the Knights in the 2009 district finals. "King's is one of the top teams in the state and I feel we belong there too."
Grycel wasn't surprised at her team's comebacks.
"We do tend to fight back all the time," said the coach, who is seeking her 17th consecutive state tournament berth. "We have lost only to ranked teams (Class 2A Burlington-Edison and Sehome plus Kings) and sometimes our youth shows. We need to work on our serves and cut down on our errors."
LC trailed 18-12 in the first set, yet played very aggressively the rest of the way in a 25-23 loss. The Lyncs had a 21-7 deficit in the second set, yet King's had to battle hard to claim a 25-19 win. In the third set, LC rattled off seven consecutive points for a 10-all tie, but succumbed 25-18.
"LC (14-3) has some good players. They're a really nice team," said veteran King's coach Jeff Fransen. "We had to play well to beat them."
LC junior Madison Weg - who likely could play any position well - turned in at least as many shining moments as anyone on either side, finishing with 13 kills, eight digs and 10 assists. Sophomore Kara Bajema had eight kills, while junior libero Emily Veening had 15 digs and sophomore setter Carli Tjoelker logged 13 assists.
Alyssanne Van Dyke, one of three King's seniors, led the Knights with 14 kills and 10 digs. Fellow senior Whitney Naber collected eight kills, three aces and two blocks, while junior Savanna Hanson had 13 digs and seven kills.
Nooksack kept rallies going time after time to register a remarkable 114 digs in the loser-out win over Friday Harbor, 25-18, 25-23, 16-25, 25-23.
Abbi Steele registered 48 digs, while fellow Pioneers junior Mariah Perry turned in 31 and senior Lindsay Hayes had 34. Senior Taryn Tenkley had 12 digs and 18 kills and Taylor Sletvik, a senior, was often all over the court with 15 digs, many in key moments.
"What I especially appreciate about our team is that they always play poised," said first-year head coach Katie Emmons, who was a fine defensive athlete herself at Nooksack and Western Washington University as Katie Robinson. "We're not an emotional team and that's good, because we do need to be collected."
Nobody had a longer night than Nooksack, which followed its win over Friday Harbor by fending off a strong challenge from South Whidbey 28-26, 25-20, 24-26, 25-21 in four highly competitive sets, giving the Pioneers the No. 3 Tri-District seed as they bid to return to state.
Hayes, a three-year starter, devoted herself to volleyball in the off-season while playing for the Bellingham-based Lightning club team as the only Pioneer club performer.
"It's so important to (the seniors) to get back to state and try to win," said Hayes, whose nicely placed soft kill ended the match. "Katie has brought aggressiveness to our practices."
Emmons again liked the defensive balance her team displayed against the Falcons as Tenkley had 19 digs and 12 kills and Hayes posted 20 digs and 14 kills while Perry logged 29 digs. Robinson felt Avery Tenkley, a junior, played an important role with six kills and two aces, as did sophomore Brianna Perry with a dominating seven blocks and powerful senior Kylee Dekoekkoek with several big moments.
"We had 11 blocks as a team, and that's our season best by about times three," Emmons said.
One of the tournament's top performers, South Whidbey junior Anne Madsen, had a combined 34 kills against Mount Baker and Nooksack, giving the Pioneers plenty of scary moments.
"The girls have put in so much time to get this far," said Emmons. "They're just selfless. That's what I like most about them. They really do play for each other."
Six teams will advance to state from the Tri-District Tournament, but the trick is to get past that dangerous loser-out opening round.