Stanwood’s Olivia Rueckert (left to right), Mallory Duffy and Mischa Kessler celebrate a point against Arlington during the 3A District 1 Volleyball Tournament on Thursday evening at Marysville Pilchuck High School. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Stanwood’s Olivia Rueckert (left to right), Mallory Duffy and Mischa Kessler celebrate a point against Arlington during the 3A District 1 Volleyball Tournament on Thursday evening at Marysville Pilchuck High School. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Stanwood volleyball tops Arlington again, clinches state berth

In another 5-set thriller between the rivals, the Spartans prevail in a tense district semifinal.

MARYSVILLE — Once again, the rival Stanwood and Arlington volleyball teams went down to the wire in a five-set thriller.

Once again, the Spartans prevailed.

And this time, their victory came with a ticket to state.

No. 4-seeded Stanwood clinched a state berth with a tense 17-25, 25-19, 25-23, 15-25, 15-10 win over top-seeded Arlington in a Class 3A District 1 Tournament semifinal Thursday night in front of a packed and energetic crowd at Marysville Pilchuck High School.

“To be able to come out and do this again, it was huge for them,” Spartans coach Megan Amundson said of her team. “… That’s what these girls want to do. They want to compete. They want to get into these dogfights and get after it.”

Thursday’s district semifinal was a rematch of Stanwood’s five-set win over Arlington on Oct. 21, which was decided by a 15-13 margin in the final set. That was the only conference loss of the season for the Wesco 3A/2A champion Eagles, who finished 14-1 in league play.

In fact, the Spartans (15-3) are the only Wesco 3A/2A team to win a set against Arlington this season.

Against the rest of their league opponents, the Eagles (16-3) are a perfect 15-0 with 15 sweeps. But against their most bitter rival, they’re 0-2.

“These two teams want to win (so) bad, and they just battle each other and play each other really evenly,” Arlington coach Kelly Pederson said.

With the victory, Stanwood clinched its fourth state berth in the past six full-length seasons. But due in part to there being no state tournament last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, this will be the Spartans’ first trip to state since 2018.

The 3A state tournament is next Thursday and Friday at the Yakima Valley SunDome in Yakima.

“Most of these seniors have been playing together since like the second grade,” Amundson said. “This is a really close group of girls on the court and off the court, and I know that they’ve just been waiting for this moment. They’ve been waiting to have their senior season, and they’ve been wanting to do some things with that senior season.

“So to be able to know that we’re continuing on and get to keep playing together, I know it was really special for them.”

In these teams’ first meeting a few weeks prior, students and fans from both sides packed Stanwood High School’s gym for a raucous atmosphere. And it was a similar scene Thursday. Even with two district semfinal matches taking place simultaneously in Marysville Pilchuck’s large gym, the crowd on the Stanwood-Arlington half was loud and electric throughout.

“Oh my gosh. It was insane,” Stanwood senior middle blocker Olivia Rueckert said of the environment. “It was just so exhilarating. … We felt bad for the teams next to us that they would not be able to hear anything, because we couldn’t hear each other on the court.”

And just like the first clash between these teams, the rematch featured all sorts of ups and downs.

After the Spartans jumped to an early lead in the opening frame, Arlington closed on a massive 19-5 run to take the first set. Stanwood immediately bounced back, leading the entirety of the second set on its way to evening the match.

The third set was back and forth the whole way, with 11 ties and 10 lead changes. With the frame deadlocked at 23 apiece, senior Baylor Hezel and Rueckert delivered back-to-back kills to lift the Spartans to a 2-1 match lead.

“Olivia for the last couple of matches has been hitting like close to .500,” Amundson said. “She’s just such an efficient middle (blocker) that reaches really high.”

With their backs against the wall, the Eagles responded with a dominant 25-15 fourth-set victory to force a deciding fifth frame. It was once again reminiscent of the teams’ first meeting, when Arlington rallied from a 2-0 match deficit to send that match to five sets.

And again, just like that first matchup, Stanwood quickly regrouped in the final frame. Aided by some errors and miscues from their opponent, the Spartans broke an 8-8 tie and scored seven of the final nine points to earn the state-clinching victory.

“The fourth set (was) not super pretty,” Amundson said. “And so to be able to come back and get it together as a team to put pressure against a state-caliber team, that’s what I’m most impressed with.”

Rueckert led a balanced Stanwood attack with 15 kills. Junior outside hitter Barrett Anderson added 10 kills, eight digs and four aces. Hezel provided nine kills, seven digs and three aces. Senior setter Grace Henken had 23 assists and 10 digs, while senior libero Karli Niegemann added 14 digs.

“On both sides, it was a serve, serve receive game,” Amundson said. “Arlington is always fantastic servers, so we knew going into it that we had to make sure that our serve receive was on point, so that we could have our whole offense going. And I do feel like we did a really good job on that.

“And then on the flip side, I think we did a really good job of serving and kind of taking them out of their offense.”

Junior outside hitter Emily Mekelburg led Arlington with 13 kills. Senior outside hitter Malia Shepherd added 12 kills, seven digs and four aces. Senior setter Taylor Pederson provided 19 assists, six kills and three aces for the Eagles.

“It was hot, cold, hot, cold,” Pederson said. “It was a game of errors. Their errors gave us points. We had errors and gave them points. … And so for us, we just have to make sure that we work on maintaining a balance throughout the match.”

With the victory, Stanwood also advanced to Saturday’s district championship match. The Spartans will face No. 2-seeded Ferndale, which swept No. 3-seeded Snohomish in Thursday’s other semifinal.

Arlington fell to the district consolation bracket, where it gets another chance to advance to state. The Eagles face either No. 6-seeded Everett or No. 7-seeded Meadowdale in a winner-to-state, loser-out match Saturday.

“The girls bounced back after the first time they lost to Stanwood just fine,” Pederson said. “They have a job to do, and their job is to go to state. So we have to win our first match on Saturday, and we go. And so that’s all we’re gonna worry about.”

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