MARYSVILLE — Facing a nine-point, second-set deficit, the Snohomish Panthers’ confidence never wavered.
All season Snohomish has been on a mission to put itself in position to clinch a third consecutive state tournament berth, and the Panthers refused to let a little adversity slow them down.
“We’ve had one thing in mind, and that was to get to this moment,” Snohomish coach Alex Tarin said. “We talked all season long about climbing that mountain and at districts our goal was to conquer that mountain, so tonight that is what we told them, ‘Hey, this is our moment, it’s time to conquer it.’”
Sharing half of the Marysville Pilchuck High School gym simultatneously with another district winner-to-state seminfinal match, Snohomish rallied from a massive second-set deficit to breeze past Oak Harbor and clinch its trip to state with a 25-11, 25-23, 25-19 sweep Thursday night.
Not only is Snohomish (14-2) headed to state for the third straight time, the Panthers are eyeing a third consecutive state trophy after placing fifth last season and eighth in 2017.
Strong play from hitters Jasett Smith and MacKenzie Whyte will be key, and the duo put together a dominant performance Thursday against the Wildcats.
Smith recorded a team-high 17 kills, and Whyte used her savvy and 6-foot-2 frame to add 16 kills of her own. The pair also combined for 53 digs, which caught Tarin’s attention.
“MacKenzie Whyte, she can do everything,” Tarin said. “It takes a team, and our team got her the ball in the right spot. Jasett played well. Our setters put the ball wherever they needed to put it and our defense was superb tonight. Our middles were absolutely great.”
While the Panthers were forced to rally in the second set, they dominated the first, racing out to a 13-6 lead before scoring 15 of the match’s final 16 points.
The second set, though, was a different story. Oak Harbor quickly built a 6-1 lead and extended it to 13-4 right around the time Tarin called a timeout.
“In our timeout, we never doubted,” Tarin said. “We said we could do this, and we really, really focused on getting the next ball. We didn’t focus on anything else — one ball at a time, one point at a time and see what happens.”
What happened was a huge rally. The Panthers stormed all the way back to tie the set at 19-19 before the Wildcats took a 22-19 advantage. The Panthers scored four consecutive points to take a 23-22 lead, and Whyte sealed the set win with a powerful kill at the net.
While Oak Harbor kept the third set close, Snohomish controlled throughout and worked a 25-19 win to cap the sweep and initiate a state tournament celebration.
Before heading to the Yakima Valley SunDome for the state tournament, the Panthers will play for a district title and state seeding with a game against Ferndale at 1 p.m. Saturday at Marysville Pilchuck High School.
STUNNED EAGLES SUFFER FIRST LOSS
Arlington’s perfect season hit a road block at the most inopportune time Thursday.
Heading into the Eagles’ 3A District 1 Tournament semifinal, winner-to-state game against always-talented Ferndale, Arlington had only lost four sets.
Against the Northwest Conference’s Golden Eagles, Arlington dropped three, suffered its first loss of the year and now faces a longer route to clinch its third state berth in program history.
“I think we did the best that we could,” Arlington coach Whitney Williams said. “I think we capitalized on the things that we could. We just couldn’t execute on a real high level tonight.”
Arlington suffered a 25-22 opening-set loss before pulling out a dramatic 28-26 second-set win, but dropped back-to-back sets and suffered a 25-22, 26-28, 25-23, 25-22 loss to Ferndale at Marysville Pilchuck High School.
The Eagles (15-1) were led by Arianna Bilby and Emily Mekelburg, who finished with 14 and 10 kills, respectively. Bilby and Mekelburg also combined for 27 digs.
Arlington faces Shorecrest next in a loser-out game at 11 a.m. Saturday at Marysville Pilchuck High School. The Eagles must win that game and a follow-up winner-to-state, loser-out game to clinch the district’s final state berth.
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