MILL CREEK — Going into the Wesco 4A volleyball season, there was a lot to talk about. Snohomish was the favorite to win the league. After years of dominance, would Jackson be able to stay at the top of the league? Would Edmonds-Woodway or Kamiak rise up and challenge the favorites?
After six games, there is one storyline that stands out above the rest and it doesn’t involve any of the teams mentioned above. After surviving a five-set thriller with Jackson on Tuesday, Lake Stevens is the Wesco 4A’s lone remaining unbeaten team.
“We haven’t really talked about it,” Lake Stevens coach Dawn Hanson said of being unbeaten in league. “Our philosophy is one point at a time, one game at a time. We try not to look to the next one, we try to focus on this one. These kids have a lot of goals that they set for themselves preseason, so we are just doing everything that we can to get them to their end of season goals.”
There is seldom a good team that wins without any adversity and the Vikings proved they could do that on Tuesday.
Lake Stevens cruised to a 25-12 win in the first set before Jackson responded by taking the next two sets. With home-court advantage and momentum seemingly on their side, it seemed the Timberwolves were on their way to victory.
The Timberwolves built an early 6-1 lead in the third set thanks to four aces by Madison Phan and ran away with the set 25-14.
“To me that was a pretty key stretch there,” Jackson head coach Mindy Staudinger said. “That built momentum that re-solidified the confidence that we know they should always have. They continued to press and they didn’t allow Lake Stevens to chip away in the game.”
The Vikings had other ideas. They dominated the fourth set 25-16 and after leading 11-5 in the fifth set, sustained a Jackson run to win 16-14.
“It could have gone either way,” Hanson said. “We went back and forth and back and forth, but those are the best kinds of games. Both are really talented teams, so that’s what you expect when you come to play here. When you come to play Jackson you are going to get a good game. My kids were well prepared for it. I thought they played out of their head.”
Hanson said the depth of her team was key to being able to comeback in the fourth and fifth sets.
“I have a large team,” she said. “We have 14 kids on our roster and we have a lot of talented athletes so it’s easy for me to make a lineup change. We made a lineup change and it infused a little bit of different energy. Sometimes this game is a lot more mental than it is sometimes physical.”
Mental strength played an important role for the Vikings when Jackson went on a run in the fifth set. Staudinger called a timeout with her team trailing 11-5. Whatever she said ignited her team to score the next seven points and take a 12-11 lead.
“Pretty much I was really ticked, actually,” Staudinger said. “Basically by their lack of competing and their lack of fight. I felt like they were giving up and quitting. I said, ‘don’t quit.’ I probably yelled it. I said, ‘I’m tired of watching you guys quit and give up and have self-pity parties essentially. So dig in and throw it all on the floor and show everybody in this gym that you can compete and show them how we should play all of the time.’ We (the coaches) had nothing to do with it from there on out. They made that decision and changed their mentality.”
The Vikings ability to respond proved to Hanson that practice has been working.
“We work on mental toughness and skillsets in practice,” Hanson said. “It’s kind of a goal of ours that we need to understand. I tell my kids at some point that they aren’t even allowed to look at the scoreboard. It’s one point at a time. If they do what they’re supposed to do, they can get it done.”
The Vikings were led by Kahlia Kelliher her finished the match with 18 kills, seven digs and was 22-for-22 serving with three aces and Kendall Swanson, who had 12 kills, nine digs and was 13-for-13 serving.
“They were on the ball tonight and they were on the ball all the way around,” Hanson said of Kelliher and Swanson. “They are two core players. They’re smart. They can read the court and they listen well. They are great kids to coach and when they have great games, this is what happens, we get great play from every position.”
Staudinger said not allowing teams to get a lead and staying positive if it happens are two things that the Timberwolves need to address.
“When you allow teams large leads, pretty much your face changes, your mentality changes,” Staudinger said. “They act defeated. We came out and said, ‘listen, this isn’t how we’ve practiced. You need to compete. You either choose to do it or you don’t.’ There is nothing that we as a coaching staff can do about that.
“So they came out and they did. They did it the next two sets and in the third set they did it handily.”
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At Jackson H.S.
Lake Stevens 25 23 14 25 16 — 3
Jackson 12 25 25 16 14 — 2
Highlights—Lake Stevens: Kahlia Kelliher 18 kills, seven digs, 22-for-22 serving, three aces; Kendall Swanson 12 kills, nine digs, 13-for-13 serving, one ace; Emily Vandegrift seven kills, four blocks; Molli Drivdahl 24 assists. Jackson: Jackson–Hannah Hicks 15 kills; Payton Locknane 15 kills, 11 digs; Mary Epps 12 kills, 12 digs; Karlee Robison 11 digs; Natalie O’Hare 45 assists. Records—Lake Stevens 6-0 league, 8-2 overall. Jackson 3-2, 6-3.