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By Andrew Christiansen
Reporter 

Cougars bow out of State with 1-2 record

 

Andrew Christiansen

SHE AINT HEAVY, SHE'S MY SISTER: It may not look like the winning team, but Lyle-Wishram's Lady Cougars wait at the net to shake hands with the Evergreen Lutheran Eagle players following the Lyle-Wishram win. Pictured from left to right are Larissa McConville, Lacy Carse (with sprained ankle) on the back of MaeLynn Luke, Caity Showalter and Alexis Miller.

Making their first trip to the State volleyball tournament since 2001, Lyle-Wishram stuck around until day two before bowing out of the tournament with a 1-2 record. The reaction to being eliminated was different than a lot of teams. More smiles than tears, reflecting the relief for the six seniors who finally fulfilled their goal.

"It means a lot [to be here]," said senior MaeLynn Luke, prior to their final match against Quilcene. "I'm just happy we made it to State in my senior year."

The team they drew to open the tournament, early on Friday morning, was Mount Vernon Christian, a team with a lot of size and a season record similar to Lyle-Wishram. The Hurricanes were 15-2 and the Cougars were 11-3. Maybe just a few nerves got to the Cougars, who lost 25-16, 25-17, but by the third and final game, Lyle-Wishram stayed with the Canes, losing 26-24. Mount Vernon Christian would go on to finish third in the tournament and Lyle-Wishram had a long wait for their next opponent, Evergreen Lutheran Eagles.

The Eagles also had a size advantage over the Cougars, leading Cougar assistant Coach Joe Bales to lament, "Everyone seems to have big hitters except us." As it turned out, the Eagles had size, but they weren't big hitters and Lyle-Wishram's front line players, Ellie Smith and Amber Tompkins were more than able to hold their own

Smith played her best match of the year as Lyle-Wishram rolled to a 25-19, 25-22, 22-25, 25-21 win. Smith knocked down a kill to tie the first game at 11, putting a halt to an eight-point run by the Eagles and the Cougars went ahead to stay. Smith scored on three aces and didn't miss a single kill shot, ending up with seven.

In game two it was Smith again with two key kills to stop Eagle surges. Down the stretch, Lyle-Wishram put together a couple of runs triggered first by a Katelynn Oldfield tip and then by a Tompkins kill. The final game was full of errors for both teams in the early going. Lyle-Wishram scored 10 of its first 17 on Eagle errors and the Eagles tied it at 17 on 13 Cougar mistakes. But, the Cougars began to put some distance between the teams when Tompkins triggered a run with a kill shot. The Eagles had a brief rally that Tompkins shut down with another kill and Lace Carse finished the match with a pair of aces and had four for the game. Smith finished with 14 kills, Tompkins had six and Carse had eight. Serving was strong as usual for the Cougars with Carse logging seven aces for the match and Smith and Caity Showalter adding three each.

The win was not without a price for Lyle-Wishram. One of the team's leading hitters, Kiya Childers went down early with a knee injury and Smith was hobbled toward the end with a sprained ankle. Carse also turned an ankle celebrating the final ace. But, the team spirit was up as they prepared for Saturday's match.

Coach Lori Smith said this was the best team she and Bales have coached. Even better than the 2001 squad, says Smith. "This group is better as a group. We have a deeper bench. No stand-out player, but different "Wow" players on different nights. All have contributed."

One thing that was consistent through the 2015 season was serving by the Lady Cougars. They didn't just put the ball in play, they fired hard shots that caught the creases or overwhelmed the receivers much of the time. It was a high risk attack, but they mastered it more times than not and it was on display in their first game against Saturday opponent, Quilcene.

The Rangers moved to a 9-4 lead to start the match. Then Winter Keeling-Bergin stepped to the line and she stayed there for a long time. The junior served 15 straight points, including six aces to give Lyle-Wishram a 19-9 lead. Quilcene made a run or two, but couldn't overcome the big lead and lost 25-20. It was the final win for the Cougars, who seemed to run out of gas.

Quilcene won the next three games 25-13, 25-21, 25-11 and would go on to finish seventh in the tournament. Lyle-Wishram was left a win short of taking home a trophy. But, for six seniors, it felt like the culmination of a long hard struggle that had a lot of ups and downs over the years. As Luke put it, "We played as a team. It's overwhelming."

The other team from District 5, Sunnyside Christian, went 2-2 and finished with the sixth place trophy.

 

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