YAKIMA, Wash. — Naselle was beaten by Firm Foundation School in the consolation bracket Friday to end the Comets’ hunt for another 7th-place trophy.
The loss brings to an end a season which saw Coach Rebekah Wirkkala’s squad take second at Districts — by beating Firm Foundation — to advance to state. At Yakima, the Comets fell to powerful Pomeroy then defeated Grace Academy before being eliminated by the Battle Ground, Washington, team.
Friday’s scores were 15-25, 22-25, 25-21 and 21-25.
Naselle came out fired up and roared to a 12-5 lead in the first set, but then 6-0 opponent Katie Kogler started to show her dominance.
Firm Foundation won the set and the second and it looked like the Eagles would cruise in the third until Naselle’s Kaylin Shrives and Jackie Steenerson and Kylee Tarabochia had some spectacular kills. Some good net work by Hollie Haataia kept their hopes alive.
Naselle won the third 25-21 and the players sprinted to the other side of the court to start the next period. But despite some long rallies and some clever tip-overs by Steenerson, Firm Foundation’s Kogler and Elsa Helmes hit impossible-to-return shots to seal the victory.
Afterward, Coach Wirkkala praised her team. “We were both fighting and we had a few errors — that was the difference. It’s whoever is consistent who does well at state. We fought really hard, though. Jackie had some great hits and Delaney (Kragerud) did well in the last two games.
“I am very proud of the way they have faced adversity this season with injury and illness. We will be back again.”
On Thursday, Naselle bounced back from its first-round defeat to beat Grace Academy of Marysville in four sets, 25-27, 25-16, 25-23 and 25-19.
Grace was in its first state championship. Naselle made heavy weather of the first set, but Coach 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 had 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.
During the tournament, three Comet players were honored by WIAA for sportsmanship. They were sophomore Echo Cenci, freshman Bella Colombo and junior Hollie Haataia.