YAKIMA, Wash. — Naselle bounced back from a first-round defeat to keep its state trophy hopes alive Thursday.
After a three-set loss to eastern Washington 1B powerhouse Pomeroy, the Comets beat Grace Academy of Marysville in four sets at the WIAA state volleyball tournament.
Scores were 25-27, 25-16, 25-23 and 25-19.
The win moves Naselle into a loser-out game against Firm Foundation Friday morning in a consolation bracket that eventually leads to the seventh- and eighth-place trophy game. The Battle Ground-area Christian school was defeated by the Comets at Districts.
Grace was in its first state championship. The Eagles lost in the first round to Wilson Creek earlier Thursday in an evenly contested five-set match.
Naselle made heavy weather of the first set, but head coach Rebekah Wirkkala had some specific suggestions before the next. Senior leader Jackie Steenerson took charge at the net as the Comets soared to a nine-point win. The next two sets were closer, but Naselle ramped up the pressure at the net and Grace errors accounted for several points.
In the fourth, freshman Brynn Tarabochia dived for several digs, at one point stretching full-out in a bold effort to return the ball. “She’s phenomenal — and only a freshman,” Wirkkala said.
Naselle moved out to a 24-14 lead, one point from victory, only to allow Grace to win the next five points. But a Grace mistake sealed the win for Naselle. 25-19.
Afterward, a relieved Wirkkala conceded she may have underestimated Grace Academy. “It was a loser-out game. They served very hard and their No. 16 (sophomore Abigail Boas) really was a fighter. Several of us commended her after the game.”
She commended Steenerson for stepping up and said the entire team readjusted well after the Pomeroy loss. “We were serving better, too.”
Naselle’s first game was against the buzz-saw of highly ranked Pomeroy. After a more or less level opening set which the Pirates won 25-21, Naselle’s players took their foot off the gas in the second and fell 25-11.
“Our whole thing this season has been to ‘play fearless,’” said Coach Wirkkala. “But in the second set, we played ‘fearful.’ In the third, we came alive.”
That set saw Pomeroy take an early lead until Echo Cenci stepped up to the service line. The sophomore served an ace, then another, then a third to bring to score to a more respectable 10-13. She dived unsuccessfully to dig the return on the next point before the focus shifted to Hollie Haataia at the net who was hitting some hard returns.
A firm kill by Haataia brought fellow junior Emma Colombo to the service line and she nailed two aces to put Naselle ahead 17-15.
Steenerson was dominating at the net, blocking Pomeroy shots then cheekily sending an unexpected soft return onto the court to put the score to 23-20. Scores went back and forth with Naselle one point away from forcing another set before the Pirates regrouped. They won the final point to advance 27-25.
“We were pretty scrappy,” said Wirkkala. “When we controlled the ball, we were able to put things away. Our net play by Hollie and Jackie was good.”
The Comets had advanced to the tournament after placing second at Districts. Wirkkala took over as head coach in 2016 and has taken her teams to seventh-place trophies in two of the past three years.
Her first year at state saw the Comets’ only loss to Pomeroy, that season’s runner up. To place seventh, a team that loses its first game in the tournament must win three more in the consolation bracket.
Firm Foundation eliminates Naselle
In a loser-out match Friday morning, Firm Foundation defeated Naselle in four sets, 25-15, 25-22, 21-25, 25-21.