Monday, June 26, 2017 This Week's Paper

Lions use depth for state title

// Annie Wright recovers to take seventh

After getting a taste of the state tournament the past two years and suffering the disappointment of an opening-round loss last year, Bellarmine Prep returned this season with a well-balanced and focused squad poised to do something special. Their ultimate goal was achieved on Nov. 10 in Lacey, as the Lions hoisted the 4A state title trophy after beating Mead in five sets, 25-27, 25-14, 25-20, 16-25, 15-13.

“They just had so much more experience and knowledge about what was expected of them and what they would need to accomplish to win it,” said head coach Jody DeGroot.

The Lions had defeated Lake Stevens and Puyallup in the first two rounds on Nov. 9, then tossed aside Jackson – who had beaten the Lions earlier in the season – in the semifinals to reach the title game. But after taking a 2-1 lead against the Panthers, the Lions quickly fell behind in the fourth set. That’s when the Lions’ experience and resiliency came into play.

“They maintained their composure, knowing they would probably go into set five,” DeGroot said. “They didn’t panic. The look on their faces was never like ‘what are we going to do.’ It was like they were prepared for those moments.”

Headlining the weekend for the Lions was two-time league MVP Courtney Schwan, who had 82 kills and 42 digs in the tournament.

“I’ve seen her play at that (high) level, but to consistently play at that level the entire weekend was what was amazing,” said DeGroot.

The Lions coach also praised the depth of the squad, noting that Julia Wright, Kelsie May and Natalie Jensen were key to the defensive effort while senior setter Katy DeGroot kept the offense in rhythm. With senior Katherine Joyce and sophomore Reghan Pukis adding 34 and 42 kills respectively in the tournament, the Lions were able to use their depth to wear down their opponents.

After clinching the first volleyball state title in the school’s history, DeGroot noted that her squad was appreciative of the players in recent years who have helped build the program to that level.

“They were the ones that got the opportunity to win it,” said DeGroot. “There’s that camaraderie with everybody that’s been a part of this. That’s what makes it exciting.”


After dropping their tournament opener, Annie Wright rattled off three straight victories in the consolation bracket to claim seventh place at the 1A state tournament at the Yakima Valley SunDome on Nov. 9-10.

The Gators fell 18-25, 25-12, 15-25, 20-25 to Zillah in the opener on Nov. 9, as senior Lani Kalalau led the way for Annie Wright with 21 kills and 20 digs and Margaux Arnston had 13 kills and four blocks. But head coach Rodney Kalalau said the passing wasn’t efficient throughout the match, and that a relatively young team may not have been quite ready yet.

“When you go to the big dance, you’ve got to show up and play like you did to get there,” Kalalau said. “I think nerves got to us early, and we couldn’t recover in the first game.”

But the Gators responded with a 25-13, 25-20, 25-16 win over Nooksack Valley in their second game, as Arnston and Lexi LeClech each had 12 kills, Maria Vipond had 20 assists and Lani Kalalau added 20 digs. They continued the momentum with a 25-18, 23-25, 25-23, 25-19 win over Kalama on Nov. 10 to advance to the consolation finals. After dropping their first set to Freeman 21-25, the Gators came back to win the final three 25-17, 25-23, 25-19 to claim seventh place – the best they could get after the opening-round loss. Lani Kalalau again led the way in the final match with 16 kills, 28 digs and three aces for the Gators.

“Everybody got their heads together and played as a team,” Rodney Kalalau said. “Everybody did their job, like we’ve done all season…(there were) some bumps along the way, but I’m glad we were able to recover.”