WENATCHEE — After his team lost to top-ranked Blue Mountain on Saturday, Wenatchee Valley College coach Kelly Ketcham knew that the Knights would need to get some help, do, in his words, “something heroic,” or both to reach the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges postseason tournament.
Beating the Community Colleges of Spokane, ranked third in the latest NWAACC coaches poll, on Wednesday at Smith Gymnasium would certainly qualify as “heroic.” Ketcham knew that, and so did his players.
“As far as making it to NWAACCs,” said freshman outside hitter Chancy Gill, “we knew that we had to do something big — beat Spokane or Walla Walla (Oct. 31), preferably both.”
With their postseason hopes potentially at stake, a young, maturing Knights team found a way to get a win Wednesday that they absolutely had to have — and they did it in emphatic fashion.
With WVC’s 25-22, 29-27, 25-19 win over the Sasquatch, the Knights (12-16, 5-6 East) remain in a fourth-place tie in the region with Yakima Valley (15-16, 5-6), which beat Columbia Basin College (9-13, 4-7) on Wednesday.
WVC split its two matches with both the Yaks and Hawks. The Knights play Treasure Valley (4-26, 0-11) on Saturday, then finish the regular season with the fourth-ranked Warriors (22-6, 8-2) and Big Bend (4-23, 2-8).
While WVC still doesn’t control its own postseason destiny, Wednesday’s victory could prove to be crucial in the Knights’ season outcome.
“This puts us back in it with a good opportunity,” Ketcham said. “We didn’t talk a lot about (the importance of this match with the girls), but they knew. Their focus has been on what we’ve been teaching them, and they know that now is the time that they have to execute.”
The critical point of the match came at the end of the second set. WVC rebounded from an early deficit, but eventually found itself down 24-21. The Knights rallied to tie the match at 24, and after the two teams traded the next six points, Gill, a Pateros graduate, finished off the set with back-to-back kills.
WVC kept the momentum it gained at that point — it never trailed in the third set.
“To get the second set was enormous,” Ketcham said. “We tell the girls all the time that they can do anything. We’re going to drive that into their minds and hearts. And they knew what it meant to close it out (in the third set); they wanted it bad.”
The Knights once again played without freshman Jordan Lautenbach, who was their leading hitter before going down with a knee injury earlier this month. Obviously, WVC would like to regain Lautenbach’s services, but it’s apparent that the Knights have learned how to compensate for her absence.
Most notably, a pair of freshmen — Gill and Danielle Norton — have seen their development as college players hasten.
“Danielle and I have taken the reigns as far as the outside hitting goes,” said Gill, who racked up 16 kills Wednesday. “We’re pushing each other. We know what we have to do — we’re fighting to make up for Jordan’s (absence).”
Ketcham also praised the efforts of freshman Brianna Perry, who is now working her way back into the team’s rotation after being slowed by injury at the start of the year.
“She’s worked so hard to get back,” he said. “She didn’t have a lot of kills, but she played solid for us in the middle. The interesting thing about this team is that every single kid on the roster has a shot at helping us win. We had kids on the bench tonight that could start the next match. We’re playing steady and solid, and starting to realize how important it is to take advantage when teams give us opportunities.”
Yakima Valley 3, WVC 3
The Knights didn’t lose for the first time this season, drawing with host Yakima Valley.
Entering the game, WVC (0-14-1, 0-11-1) had scored just two goals on the season, but received two tallies from Cascade graduate Hailey Ziegler and another from her sister Hannah.