BELLINGHAM - For at least one set, Squalicum's volleyball team stood toe to toe with the undefeated Burlington-Edison Tigers.
The Storm withstood the constant pounding from the Tigers' outside hitters, Maggie McTaggart and Alyssa Terwilliger, but Burlington-Edison's relentless attack inevitably wore down Squalicum in its 25-14, 25-12, 25-16 loss in the second round of the Class 2A Bi-District Volleyball Tournament on Wednesday, Nov. 6, at Squalicum High School.
Squalicum managed to win its opening match of the tournament against Lakewood 25-21, 25-21, 26-24, to secure a spot in the consolation bracket. Squalicum will face Archbishop Murphy at noon on Saturday, Nov. 9, at Squalicum High School.
As for the Storm's tough three-set loss to Burlington-Edison, Squalicum coach Laurie Quigley was happy with the fight she saw from her team against a Tigers squad that handily beat them earlier in the year.
"I thought the third game, especially, we battled really well," Quigley said.
The Tigers jumped out to early leads in both the first and second sets, leading by as many as 11 points in the first, but timely digs by senior libero Kayla Chang often-times extended long rallies. Although Squalicum found itself on the wrong end of many of those lengthy exchanges, in the third set, some of the kill attempts began to seep through Burlington-Edison blockers and find open space.
"At first, I think we were scared," Chang said. "Our goal was not to be scared, and to attack them as much as they attack us. Playing to win and not playing to lose. And I think once we got in that mentality, we started getting in rhythm, having longer rallies and realizing that we can (compete) with them."
In the third set, Chang, in particular, was sprawling all over the court, taking the continuous onslaught of heavy hits from Burlington-Edison. But as she did all night, she managed to force the Tigers to hit extra balls, and with the score knotted at 9-9, she made a one-handed, diving save that led to a block by Ilea Dibble that gave Squalicum the one-point edge.
The two teams traded blows, with the Tigers taking a 16-13 advantage and the Storm answering back to bring it within 17-15, but Burlington-Edison finished the match winning eight of the final nine points to win it.
Chang's willingness to sacrifice her body for her team was impossible to overlook. Her off-colored libero jersey distinguished her from the rest, but it's her tenacity that Quigley points to as what sets her apart.
"The thing about Kayla is that she will go up against anybody," Quigley said.
Chang doesn't provide winning kills or stuffing blocks. Instead, the electric, high-energy libero gets to test her mettle against the best outside hitters in the playoffs. Those are the matchups she looks forward to, especially against a team like Burlington-Edison.
"I love playing teams that can hit well. It's fun for me because it is a challenge," Chang said. "It really helps bring out my competitiveness."
This was the first ever trip for Squalicum into the Class 2A Bi-District Volleyball Tournament, and in its opening match against Lakewood, Chang thought the girls were a little nervous.
Apparently it didn't show as the Storm opened up with a strong 25-21 win. Punctuating the set win was a kill by senior setter Tirsa Randall-Grutter into the middle of Lakewood's defense.
"We had a lot of jitters, but we played through them," Quigley said. "Volleyball is a game of momentum, so it's always nice to get that first set under your belt before going into that second one."
The Storm navigated through a back-and-forth second set in which neither team held more than a three-point advantage the entire set. Squalicum won three of the final four points, with a combined block by Randall-Grutter and Atrina Gharai against the Cougars' Larissa Block sealing the set win, 25-21.
The third and final set saw the Storm jump out to a 14-7 advantage after Lakewood was called for a double hit. The Cougars, though, would answer back by winning the next seven points to tie the final set at 14-14. A kill by senior outside hitter Meghan Lowry started a six-point run by the Storm to take a 20-14 advantage, but like deja vu, the Cougars came back with three aces and two kills over the next 10 points to tie the match at 22-22.
At that moment, Quigley called a timeout to temper Lakewood's momentum.
"She was saying that nothing changed," said Chang of the message Quigley gave to her team during the timeout. "Even if when we're losing, she'll be like 'We're still winning. We should still have that look on our face. We should still be excited.'"
Lakewood took the next point after the timeout, but back-to-back kills by Dibble and Katie Alvord gave Squalicum the 24-23 advantage. Block recorded a kill down the right baseline to tie it back up, but the Storm would secure the next two points to get their first ever district playoff win.
"It was really, really big for us to get a win under our belt," Quigley said. "This is the first time they've been to districts, so it was huge to kind of get a win and remember that they are here for a reason, and that they are meant to be here."