MILL CREEK — Already with a one-set lead and an eight-point lead late in the second set, the Kamiak Knights appeared poised to pull off a stunning upset of No. 2-ranked Jackson in Tuesday night’s 4A Wesco South match.
But behind Miah Diirell the Timberwolves rallied to not only take the second set, but also the third and the fourth sets en route to a 3-1 victory. Set scores were 16-25, 27-25, 25-19 and 25-19.
Without Emmy Allen, who missed the match with illness, the Timberwolves looked out of sync in the first set and Kamiak took advantage leading throughout the set and cruising to a 1-0 lead. Jackson appeared to wake up in the second set, but still found themselves struggling to overtake the Knights, who built an 18-10 lead forcing Jackson to call a timeout.
“They played tough,” Kamiak coach Natalie Bowie said of her team. “As a coach when you are sitting on the bench and you go mentally prepare for a game like this, you want your girls to walk out of the gym feeling proud and playing with a lot of heart and determination, and they played great tonight.”
As well as Kamiak played, Jackson is a tough team to put away and the Timberwolves proved that late in the second set. Coming out of the timeout, Jackson went on a 5-0 run to cut the deficit to 18-15 and continued to chip away at the lead until they had tied the set score at 22. The teams alternated the next six points before Jackson finally scored two straight to win 27-25.
“We just started out a little shaky and our girls just kept getting more aggressive and eventually we had to say, ‘relax, play your game,’” Jackson head coach Ashley Allen said. “They were almost over-fired up. They relaxed a little bit and they play well at the end of matches, so it’s always nice when it is close like that. Not that I’m comfortable, but I know that I can handle it.”
Playing without Allen, one of the best players in the state, seemed to have its effect on Jackson early.
“It was weird definitely when you get used to having a certain feel for the game and a chemistry,” Diirell said. “But it wasn’t bad by any means. It was just different and I think we struggled with that change so suddenly.”
Coach Allen said her sister Emmy’s absence had an effect on the team, but not as big of one as some might think.
“Anytime there is a change in your consistency of a group, it is going to make a difference,” she said. “Is it a 25-15 loss difference? No, I don’t think so. I think it was just a couple of points in a row got to us. Usually we are a pretty strong mental team and we just kind of broke down and I think that’s where they were able to take advantage of us in that game.”
After the Timberwolves’ comeback victory in the second set, they took control of the match and were able to respond to any push the Knights made. A big reason for the Timberwolves success late in the match was the play of Miah Diirell, who took over the match both physically and emotionally in the final two sets.
“I kind of got myself back into the game and that helped my team in the third game definitely,” Diirell said.
In the fourth and final set, she had seven kills including the one that clinched the victory for the Wolves.
“She was on fire,” Bowie said of Diirell. “She is really one of their strongest players. Defensively, we are always looking to pick up the ball the best we can when she is getting a hold of it. She is one of their strongest players so she is a force on that team for sure.”
As a team, Jackson finished the match with 52 kills, 69 digs and 11 aces.
For the Knights, it was their first league loss of the season and just their second loss overall. After losing hitter Bryce Larson and setter Ally Bowles to graduation after last season, the Knights haven’t missed a beat in 2012.
“They are a strong program,” Allen said of Kamiak. “They are always finishing in the top of Wesco. Natalie does a very good job with what she’s got going on there. Their girls are really strong and they work really hard. I wasn’t surprised. I was sure they were going to have a pretty good team this year and they kind of fulfilled exactly what I expected. They are a good program. Losing good players doesn’t make them worse. They have plenty to fill the shoes.”
Margaret Wallace led the way for Kamiak with 11 kills, Rian Larsen finished with 10, Sara Pulaski had 26 digs and Danielle Smullin had 35 assists for the Knights.
“The team that we have right now played with a lot of heart,” Bowie said. “They persevered really well point for point. They played really smart and they played with a lot of guts. As coaches, we look at a night like tonight and we are just beyond proud.”
At Jackson H.S.
Highlights—Kamiak: Sara Pulaski 26 digs; Rian Larsen 10 kills; Margaret Wallace 11 kills; Danielle Smullin 35 assists. Jackson: not reported. Records—Kamiak 4-1 league, 7-2 overall. Jackson 5-0, 6-0.