If this is Bellarmine Prep’s version of a slow match, many teams would settle for it without hesitation. The defending state champs were challenged early in each set, but pulled away for a 25-15, 25-15, 25-15 win over Central Kitsap at home on Sept. 26 to stay perfect on the year.
“It was a little bit slower, but we finally got the hang of it and got in our groove,” said Bellarmine Prep senior libero Julia Wright, who led the defensive effort with 11 digs. “We kind of pulled together and played as a team finally, after a rough start.”
The Cougars got off to a 3-0 lead in the first set before the Lions launched a 15-5 run, with reigning state player of the year Courtney Schwan collecting six of her 11 kills during the stretch. But Central Kitsap was honed in on Schwan from the start, as the Cougars’ Kelsey Scott put up back-to-back blocks off Schwan later in the first set to pull back within 18-12.
“That was their game plan, and I was very excited about that,” said Bellarmine Prep head coach Jody DeGroot. “I want our girls to work against blocks that are real blocks. They did a really good job of putting up a good block against our girls, and that was important for us to experience.”
The Lions closed the first set on a 7-3 run, spurred on by aces from Schwan and Miristi Devereux. Bellarmine Prep then began to deploy some of its other weapons after falling behind early in the second set, as Schwan set up both Reghan Pukis and Megan Jacobsen for kills to regain the lead. Schwan later added three kills in the span of five points, and the Lions closed the set on a 13-6 run.
“Right before every game we’re talking about ‘We can’t let up,’” said Schwan, who added eight aces and eight digs for the Lions. “The best way to show a team respect is to throttle them to show we’re not going to let up, because we know you’re a good team and we’re going to take it to you.”
The Lions’ experience and power began to wear down the Cougars early in the third set, as Pukis collected five of her team-high 13 kills in the span of 12 points, and Wright’s ace later gave Bellarmine Prep a commanding 15-3 lead. Schwan emphatically ended the match with three aces in the final four points.
The Lions improved to 6-0 on the season and 4-0 in league play, having won all 18 sets they had played to that point. The success of last year’s championship run might be hard to live up to, but the Lions insist they are dedicated to improving – and challenging for another title.
“We definitely think about it, but we try not to let it get to our heads,” Wright said. “We still keep trying to work hard at practice, and do our best to push ourselves…it’s hard defending a state title, and we know we have to do it again.”