LC surprises Connell in first round, falls to Lakeside in 1A quarterfinals

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 15, 2013 

YAKIMA - No matter what happens for the rest of their volleyball careers, Lynden Christian senior Karley De Jager and sophomore Kara Bajema - both college prospects - will have an unforgettably "insane" memory along with their teammates and coaches.

"Insane" was the apt word both standouts used to describe the Lyncs' sensational comeback from two sets down in their Class 1A State Tournament opener before a crowd that went bonkers.

Indeed, coach Kim Grycel, who has the Lyncs in their 17th consecutive state tournament, said she had "never seen anything" like LC's 17-25, 19-25, 25-21, 25-22, 15-8 comeback conquest over District 5 champion Connell on Friday, Nov. 15, at the Yakima Valley SunDome.

LC's never-to-be forgotten rally landed the Lyncs in a late night quarterfinal against 2012 state runner-up Nine Mile Falls Lakeside, which claimed a 20-25, 25-22, 25-20, 25-17 win over LC. The Eagles rallied to beat Woodland 3-1 to open the 16-team tournament.

The Lyncs (17-4) - still in the running for what would be their 15th trophy under Grycel - will play a loser-out match at 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, against Zillah, which suffered a 3-0 quarterfinal loss to Chelan. If the Lyncs survive, they will play at 3 p.m. in the fifth/sixth place match.

"All season long our girls have never been quitters," said Grycel, whose youthful squad came in with losses only to King's (top-ranked in Class 1A) and Class 2A state qualifiers Burlington-Edison and Sehome.

De Jager, a three-sport standout, said the remarkable comeback will always rank with her best high school memories.

"Nothing like this," De Jager said if she had ever experienced such a comeback. "Certainly never at state. We just played so well as a team, with such eager passion. It was just insane out there."

In the fourth set, the Lyncs scored 17 of their 25 points on thoroughly aggressive offensive moves - a variety of kills, blocks, dinks and aces by no fewer than six different players.

That set up the Lyncs for an even more confident and aggressive final set, in which they claimed an 8-2 lead over previously unbeaten Connell, as De Jager served six consecutive winning points, beginning with an unusual backline kill by junior setter Carli Tjoekler for a 3-2 lead.

Versatile junior Madison Weg seemed to leap almost to the ceiling with sheer excitement after ending the match with her 12th kill, capping an overwhelming 15-8 fifth set showing.

"Truly a team effort," Bajema said. "The team played with such passion. It was insanity out there."

The team's dig statistics alone proved Bajema's point. Bajama led the Lyncs with a career-high 18, while Weg had 14 digs. Junior libero Emily Veening had 10 digs and junior Makayla Lancaster had nine in her role as first player off the bench.

"Makayla made some great passes off serve-receive," Grycel said.

Bajema and Weg both had a dozen kills, while De Jager and Morgan Van Kooten had seven apiece. Weg had a season-high eight blocks and Van Kooten made six, while Weg collected 21 assists and Tjoelker had 18 in an unpredictable two-pronged style attack.

One of the muscular Van Kooten's blocks gave the Lyncs an all-important 24-22 lead in the fourth set, and LC then won the set on a Connell error.

Middle blocker Hannah Wynstra - the only other starting senior besides De Jager - scored on a block at match point in the third set, with the Lyncs up 24-21 courtesy of a Weg kill. Tjoelker served the final three points of the third set after a Connell error gave the Lyncs a 22-21 lead.

"I told Morgan Van Kooten and Hannah Wynstra they were ready to have big games," Grycel said.

Erika Shaw, yet another of the many junior standouts, also provided steadiness during the Lyncs' comeback, especially late in the fourth set.

"I didn't feel we played to our potential in the first two sets and we were a little nervous," Grycel said. "We went 0-2 in the tournament last year."

The third set was tight all the way through. Bajema's high-leaping power kill gave the Lyncs a 21-20 lead and though Connell quickly tied it at 21, the Lyncs never trailed again in the third set.

The Lyncs fell behind 4-2 in fourth set, but Van Kooten's two quick kills tied it she followed up with numerous big plays throughout the set. Two late kills by Weg kept the Lyncs ahead and set up Van Kooten's huge block for the 24-22 lead before Connell's fourth set-ending error.

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