Sehome had every answer for Lynden Christian’s potent offense.
The Lyncs, despite owning the most impressive resume of any team in the Northwest Conference this season, had no solution for the tenacious team that stood opposite them.
And maybe more importantly, Dani Johnson, the Mariners’ all-league outside hitter, hit with a ferocity Lynden Christian couldn’t defuse.
Each time she struck the ball a drove of defenders would shift her direction, the senior still finding a way to puzzle the Lyncs’ front in a highly-anticipated matchup of two undefeated teams.
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Thanks to Johnson’s match-high 20 kills, Sehome is the only team that can claim to be unbeaten now.
The Mariners handed Lynden Christian its first loss of the year in a four-set battle 25-19, 21-25, 25-23, 25-22 on Tuesday night, Oct. 21, at Sehome High School.
Sehome has now upended defending Class 2A state champion Burlington-Edison and rival Lynden Christian in the same season, almost ensuring a straight shot to the NWC regular-season crown.
“That was the game we’ve been waiting for,” Johnson said. “Coming out of this game, this was the best volleyball we’ve played all season.”
For as dominant as Johnson was, it was the scrappy defense the Mariners played that allowed Johnson many of her opportunities.
Time and again, Kara Bajema, the Lyncs’ standout junior hitter, pounded a shot cross court that would find the diving efforts of a Mariner defender, often times Natalie Knops, who finished with 30 instrumental digs.
“We knew Kara was going to come out swinging. We knew she was their big target, and we did a really good job of shutting her down,” Sehome coach Kristy White said. “She had a couple of big hits, but we passed the ball well, we stayed confident and we knew if we played our game we would come out on the better side.”
Bajema still finished with 18 kills and several key blocks that kept LC in it, but the Mariners were able to force several late errors that helped stave off a fourth-set comeback by Lynden Christian.
The opening set began with the two evenly-matched squads trading points until Sehome gained a 15-11 advantage thanks to back-to-back kills by Johnson and one by fellow senior Megan Greer.
That lead would swell to 24-19, a well-placed tap by Greer into the corner ending it and giving Sehome the opening set.
The Lyncs would respond, cleaning up on an error-filled first to gain a 17-12 lead in the second before the Mariners staged a comeback that closed it to 19-18 LC.
Over that span Johnson recorded two kills and an ace, with a huge block by Maddy Bryan and Kayla Thurman on Bajema bringing it to within one. Bajema, though, would secure emphatic kills on the next two points, Madison Weg adding kills on two of the final three points to tie the match at one set apiece.
White offered a bit of advice to her team in the break as the capacity crowd was seemingly waiting for the other shoe to drop for Sehome.
“Not to sweat it,” she said when asked what she told her team following LC’s second-set win. “In the second game, they cut out their errors and we let them get a big lead. ... You’re not going to make up that deficit if they are error-free.”
Sehome would again face another large deficit trailing 21-15 in the third after Weg continued to pound kill after kill, many of her 12 coming in the third frame.
But as was the case all night, as the Lyncs struggled in the pressure moments, the Mariners rose to the occasion, bringing it to 23-19 LC before winning the final six points to take the third 25-23.
“Sehome played really well. We couldn’t slow down Dani much on the outside,” Lynden Christian coach Kim Grycel said. “A loss helps you to refocus and see what you need to work on. Really makes the girls committed as we get into the end of the season.”
Drama again followed in the final moments of the fourth as Sehome tried to close it out up 23-17.
Lynden Christian’s tall front got a pair of kills from Weg and a miss-hit by Bryan to force a Mariner timeout. Johnson’s thundering kill out of the timeout had Sehome within one of a victory, but back-to-back blocks by Morgan Van Kooten and Weg on attempts by Johnson only heightened an already-tense crowd.
A service error by LC would cast the final nail giving Sehome its road to an undefeated season.
Megan Greer led the Mariners with 45 assists and 15 digs, her sister Megan adding 12 kills and 16 aces.
Van Kooten was a force up front for LC, recording 12 blocks, and Emily Veening had 22 digs.