MONROE — Don’t tell the Monroe Bearcats volleyball team that they aren’t a favorite.
The Bearcats may have lost All-Wesco setter and hitter Kendal Munoz to graduation after last season. And they may have been an afterthought of many to win the Wesco North going into this season. After all, Snohomish’s Lanesha Reagan is one of the best players in the state and one of the reasons why the coaches picked the Panthers as the favorite to win the 4A Wesco North this season.
But on Monday night, it wasn’t the Panthers with a chance to stay unbeaten in league and secure the Wesco North championship, it was the Bearcats — and they seized the opportunity.
The Bearcats needed a victory over the Lake Stevens Vikings to clinch the title. They jumped on the Vikings early, fought through adversity in the second and third set, and finally put the Vikings away in the fourth set to win 3-1 by set scores of 25-13, 24-26, 27-25 and 25-19.
“It means a lot,” Monroe hitter Melina Seabrook said. “We had lost it (the Wesco North title) for a couple of years, but now we got it back. So, we are happy and we hope we can continue on.”
It was the Bearcats’ second victory over the Vikings this season. In both victories they overwhelmed the Vikings in the first set. Munoz offered her explanation of the Bearcats’ fast starts.
“We are really focusing on our serve-receive game and controlling the ball and allowing the other team to make the mistake,” Monroe head coach April Munoz said. “As opposed to being the power team, we want to be the control team. We are a little smaller than we have been in the past, so that’ where our game base is right now.”
On the other side, Lake Stevens head coach Amy Wiklund didn’t know why her team has struggled early in the matches against Monroe.
“It’s kind of been a theme this season,” Wiklund said. “I don’t know, I don’t know what’s going on with them. They just get a little bit behind and can’t get their heads out of it and it takes a fresh start for them to pull through on some of those.”
It was clear that whatever had bothered the Vikings in the first set was forgotten in the second. The Vikings held a lead for nearly the entire set and looked all but certain to even the match at a set a piece with a 19-14 lead. But the Vikings weren’t the only team that was mentally tough. Monroe stormed back, scoring 10 of the next 12 points to take a 24-21 lead.
But the Bearcats couldn’t hold the lead. Lake Stevens scored the final five points of the set to win 26-24 and even the match.
The third set was just as close, but this time the difference was Seabrook who lifted the Bearcats in more ways than one.
“She plays with so much heart,” Munoz said. “She is an excellent athlete, but she has twice as much heart as she does athleticism. She just gives everything she’s got and she wants it so bad that it just spills out into everybody else.”
Seabrook finished the match with 18 kills and 13 digs. Her teammate DD Latimore added 52 assists and Jannae Groeneweg had 16 digs.
As the third set winner often does in matches that were tied 1-1, the Bearcats went thwarted off any thoughts of a Lake Stevens comeback in the fourth set, winning 25-19 to take the match.
Wiklund saw the third set as a momentum changer.
“I would have loved to have gone into that fifth game for sure,” Wiklund said. “I think the kids were ready to beat Monroe. They would have liked to have had a better match against them, but this was definitely a better match than last time. So I think they have redeemed themselves in that. But yeah, a third (set) would have been great because I think it would have been tight.”
McKayla Huntley led the Vikings with seven blocks and six kills and Kahlia Kelliher added nine kills.
At Monroe H.S.
Highlights—Lake Stevens: McKayla Huntley 7 blocks, 6 kills; Kahlia Kelliher 9 kills. Monroe: Melina Seabrook 18 kills, 13 digs; DD Latimore 52 assists; Jannae Groeneweg 16 digs. Records—Lake Stevens 5-3 league, 10-4 overall. Monroe 7-0, 11-2.