YAKIMA — Friday began the onslaught of the State 4A Volleyball tourney at the SunDome.
For the Wenatchee Panthers, it started early against the eleventh-seeded Kennedy Catholic Lancers from Burien and the NPSL League at 7 a.m. Friday.
The Lancers held an 18-3 record before they met Wenatchee, but quickly, the Panthers dealt the Lancers something they haven’t been too familiar with this season, a decisive loss.
“We controlled the offensive tempo,” Wenatchee Head Coach Marni McMahon said. “It came down to our serve game. They had some passers we were able to target, and it helped get them out of their system. Our serving was key.”
Wenatchee won in three sets, scoring: 25-17, 25-17, and 25-20. This left the Panthers with a 16-1 record that pushed them into the quarterfinals with another member of the NPSL League — the third-seeded Mount Rainier Rams.
Ashton McMahon led the Panthers with 15 digs, Maren Stuber had 12 kills, and Malia Knell had six blocks. Ava Jo Berry followed with 28 assists, and both Keira Demirjian and Bri Sackman both finished with 10 kills.
“We got into a rhythm. Our system. We have a few great offensive players, and we were able to spread the ball around,” McMahon said.
The Rams, not unlike the Panthers, are comfortable with winning. Every win but one was done in straight sets. They held an impressive 21-2 record, dealing a rare loss, again, like the Panthers, to Kennedy Catholic, and nearly every team they faced.
Because these two teams were so well matched, they’d have their work cut out for them Friday afternoon. The stakes were clear. The winner heads to the semi-finals held Saturday morning, and a loss puts your team in a lower bracket, also Saturday morning.
“Mount Rainier is a physical team that doesn’t make errors,” McMahon said. “We’ll have to work around their front line. It’ll be our passing game against theirs, and who can execute better. ”
It turned out to be a wild match. The first set was dominated by the Rams, winning 25-14. But the Panthers must have been testing the water because they won the next two sets 27-25 and 25-23. Two narrow, competitive sets, showing their grit and resilience.
“It was a battle,” McMahon said. “A lot of back and forth, point for point. We fought for everything we got, and I’m proud of how they continually made changes.”
The fourth set went back to the Rams, another tight set 25-22. This evened out the match at a split 2-2. The fifth and final set would determine who moved on.
“We had to make some offensive adjustments after that first set. There were some long rallies and a lot of high-level volleyball. It was absolutely one of our better games. State championship level of play. They left it all on the court,” McMahon said.
It was another neck-and-neck battle, ultimately, the Rams were able to edge Wenatchee just enough to deal the Panthers their second loss of the season, ending their shot at the title 15-12. The Rams won the match 3-2.
“We played really good volleyball against a really good team. It’s just one of those things where making a few critical errors at the end cost us. We had opportunities at the end, but weren’t able to execute,” McMahon said. “Couldn’t be more proud of their effort.”
Ashton McMahon tallied 24 digs as Labero and was 13 of 14 serving. Bri Sackman had 17 kills, Keira Demirjian had 14 kills, and Maren Stuber was close behind with 13. Ava Jo Berry delivered 40 assists, Elise Baier had 10 digs and was 10 of 10 serving, and Malia Knell finished with nine blocks and five kills.
“They were emotional,” McMahon said. “They wanted that game. I told them they have an hour to reflect then we’re watching film on Olympia. We still have an opportunity to bring back a trophy, so there is no time to sulk.”
Mount Rainier moves on to face the seventh-seeded Graham-Kapowsin Eagles in the semi-final match held Saturday at 9:45 a.m.
Wenatchee will play the fifteenth-seeded Olympia Bears Saturday at 9:45 a.m. The winner could potentially capture fifth place in the State tournament.