WENATCHEE — Wenatchee volleyball coach Leanne Branam had a hard time finding any faults to address after the Panthers’ close home loss to Eisenhower on Tuesday.
Without a doubt, it was a heartbreaking defeat. Wenatchee battled back from a two-set deficit, forced a fifth set and lost the final contest 15-13 after a failed return.
But there was plenty for Branam to like in her squad’s first Big Nine loss of the year. The Panthers stayed poised in a raucous arena and executed on the court leaps and bounds better than they had so far this season.
Branam’s postgame message to her team was clear — keep up the good work.
“I have nothing bad at all to say about that match we played,” she said. “(It was) so much better today than I have seen us play this year. (I’m) super proud of the girls. They could’ve easily rolled over and gone home after the first two games, but they fought back. That’s why you play volleyball — for moments like that.”
The Cadets are the only team that beat Wenatchee in league play last year, and they needed every bit of effort to grab the road victory.
Eisenhower endured plenty of lead changes and 16 ties in the first two sets alone. After coming away with a safe lead, the Panthers rallied with a 25-17 win in the third set, followed by a 25-22 victory to force a deciding fifth set.
Finally, after enduring a 3-0 run late in the final set, the Cadets finished the night with what may very well be their hardest-fought win of the year.
Of course, Eisenhower was elated after tallying the clinching point. But Wenatchee took the defeat in stride and took solace in its performance, which was much-improved from Saturday, when it lost several matches in non-league tournament play.
“They’re not bummed, they’re super pumped because that is a totally different team than what showed up Saturday,” Branam said.
Although Branam had plenty of positive to say about her team, what stood out more than anything was the improved awareness of setters Morghan Funk and McKenzie Madland.
The duo — both first-year starters — did a better job of reading the flow of the game and finding ways to get the ball to the hot hand. That, in turn, put the hitters in good position to make big plays.
“I always call it, ‘Be a player of the game, to understand what works,’ ” Branam said. “You see something that works, go with it. You have to be a very selfless team, to not be upset when our teammate is on fire, and I think we did a very good job of that, finding out what would work.”
Losing to a league opponent, especially in such a close manner, is never easy. But the Panthers displayed a competitive edge and plenty of progress even from the weekend. That should take them far this season as they look to repeat as Big Nine champs.
“If we can play like that against everyone in our league, we will win out,” Branam said. “It will be a battle against Eisenhower again because Eisenhower’s a very tough environment, but it’s one of those things where you just have to focus on the next day.”
Moses Lake 3, Eastmont 0
Eastmont was swept in its first match in its renovated gymnasium, losing to the Chiefs 25-9, 25-23, 25-12.
“Even though we didn’t win, it was a memorable night for the girls,” said Eastmont coach Molly Nelson. “They were excited to be out there.”
The Wildcats played their best volleyball in the second set, rallying from a 9-3 deficit.
“We started off pretty hectic and scattered in the first set,” Nelson said. “In the second set, instead of playing on six islands all alone, we actually played as a team. We started to communicate, which helped with the trust on the court.”
Wenatchee 3, Eisenhower 0
The Panthers picked up another strong road win to improve to 2-0 in Big Nine play.
Katie Michkiosky scored in the first minute of play off an assist from Olivia Doerr and Emily Rader scored twice off assists from Racher Linderman and Gabby Waterman.
Coach John Springer, whose team is off to a 3-0-1 overall start, credited the strong middle play, which has been a bright spot for Wenatchee this fall.
“We really once again controlled the middle of the field with Ashton Blanksma’s play,” he said. “I have to give her props, she had a fantastic game again, controling the middle. And Emily Rader came through when we needed her to score.”
Moses Lake 8, Eastmont 1
Rebecca Tarbert scored Eastmont’s only goal.
“We had a total communication breakdown,” said Wildcats coach Erin Kavanaugh. “Once we decide to start talking (to each other), we’ll be fine. We have a young, timid team, and we need somebody to step up.”
Cashmere 13, Quincy 0
Tianna Helm and Tessa McCormick recorded hat tricks to lead Cashmere to a dominating victory over host Quincy.
The Jackrabbits didn’t attempt a shot against the Bulldogs’ defense.
Tasha Kowatsch scored her first career goal, and Mikayla Sites added a marker in her first game since the 2011 1A state championship contest.
“We adjusted a few things after (our last) match,” said Cashmere coach Dennis Tronson. “We tried to keep the ball down and be quick with our passes and take advantage of our speed, and we were at full strength. We’re heading in the right direction.”