LAKEWOOD - Never did the Sehome volleyball team employ a championship-or-bust mentality.
Rather, Kristy White and her team made it their goal at the beginning of the season to make it to the 2A state semifinals, which they accomplished. But as the Mariners walked off the court in a packed Pierce College gym on Saturday, Nov. 16, after losing to Capital 21-25, 25-18, 25-15, 25-13, it was clear that they wanted much more than just to make it to the final four.
They wanted the thing they knew they could no longer have: a state title.
"It's still hard not making it to the top two, but it's a great opportunity to make it this far," said senior hitter Taylor Lyall.
White, while proud of her team for all it had achieved this season, walked away from the celebrating, hollering Capital team knowing it had not seen Sehome at its best.
"I think we were caught on our heels," White said. "And even though we were guaranteed top four, we were going for the big trophy."
The Mariners began the match with a welcome, although uncharacteristic, strong start. Sehome had found itself down early in both of its previous state matches, including coming from behind twice in the Mariners' first two sets in the quarterfinals, but against Capital, the Mariners didn't have that problem in the first set.
Sehome paced the Cougars clear up to 15-15 after a kill by junior hitter Dani Johnson, one of her nine in the match. After that, two Capital errors and a kill by Lyall gave them their largest cushion of the set, 18-15.
"I feel like we really communicated well in that game," said senior middle blocker Erika Smith.
Sehome ended up taking the set thanks in part to two more kills by Lyall and a set-ending tip by Smith, who also recorded a kill amongst the final few points.
"We were finding the holes in their defense," said Lyall, who had five of her match-high 10 kills in the first set, "and we were able to put the blocks up on their hitters."
The Cougars' offense had been dormant for much of the first set. But then again, so was Sehome's propensity to start slow, and unfortunately for the Mariners, their tendency to start slow coincided with Capital's awaking offense.
Not but 15 points into the second set, the Mariners were staring up at a 10-5 deficit. Only this time, this wouldn't be a deficit they would miraculously come back from as they had done time and again.
"I told them, 'When you play top four teams in the state, they are not going to give you points,'" White said. "We don't see that kind of competitive play every single match we come in to."
Sehome did have a run in the latter part of the second set where it closed a 19-11 Cougars lead to 20-16 after a Johnson kill, an ace by Megan Greer, a block by Emily Greer and an ace by Johnson. Capital quickly called a timeout to cool Sehome's gathering momentum, but the Cougars wouldn't have to do too much to win the set as Sehome had miscommunications on three key points that all led to players standing around watching the ball land between them.
As is the case when miscommunications happen, they all looked at one another with a bewildered, slightly confused expression.
"We started to get timid because we knew we realized we were down, and so we stopped trusting each other, which is what we're all about," Smith said. "So when that fell, everything else started to fall with it. ... We would get down by two, and you could see everyone's attitude change, like everyone was all down on themselves."
Fittingly, Capital took the second set after a Sehome shot sailed wide.
Lyall said she saw the errors in the second set begin to compound themselves, one after another after another.
"We could have one communication error, and then we would have a passing error, and it just all wouldn't come together," Lyall said.
As both Smith and Lyall said, once things started to fall apart, things really started to fall apart.
The wear and tear of two long, grueling first-day matches was apparent when Sehome fell down 13-11 in the third set. The players just didn't have the legs to do what their minds wanted to, White said.
"Any time you are tired, and you are going out, you want it. It's not that you don't want it, it's just (the body) is not working how you are used to out there three solid games of volleyball," White said. "To stay mentally tough for that long takes a lot."
The 13-11 deficit quickly became a 22-13 deficit despite both of Sehome's points coming off of Capital service errors.
The fourth and final set was very much the same, with the emotion keeping Sehome in it for only so long. After being tied at 7-7, the Cougars went on to win 18 of the next 24 points to move on and face Burlington-Edison in the Class 2A State Volleyball Championships.
Sehome lost again in the consolation third-place match to West Valley 25-21, 25-13, 17-25, 25-15.
"We knew they would be tough," White said in a phone interview. "It was hard to dig out of some of the holes we found ourselves in."
With the loss, the Mariners finished in fourth place.
"If you say you aren't happy with fourth, you're crazy," White said. "We would have liked to place third, but the only teams we lost to were the first, second and third-place teams. So you can't complain with that."
Megan Greer had 26 assists and 10 digs in the game and Kendra Thomas added 10 digs.
Sehome graduates Taylor Lyall, Erika Smith, who finished her season with 13 kills and 1 block in the consolation game, Danielle Strasser and Thomas.
"They're great leaders, great people, great work ethic and great to coach," White said. "Anytime you graduate a player, hopefully you'll be missing something. These girls did a great job of carrying on Sehome's tradition."
Reach Alex Bigelow at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports news .