Happy birthday Jeff Curtis.
The Archbishop Murphy head coach spent his induction into the 40-year-old club coaching his volleyball team to a 3-0 win over South Whidbey in a Cascade Conference match at Archbishop Murphy High School. With the win, the Wildcats clinched the conference’s No. 1 seed into the 2A District 1 playoffs that begin in a week at Lakewood and Squalicum High Schools.
“It’s a great birthday,” Curtis said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. My wife might, but I wouldn’t.”
The Wildcats (12-1 in the league and overall), who trail King’s, a 1A team, in the standings, will open the district tournament against the Northwest Conference’s No. 4 seed.
“That’s pretty important,” Curtis said of the No. 1 seed. “It gives us a little bit of security. We won’t have to work our way up.”
Archbishop Murphy swept all three games on Senior Night — 25-15, 25-10, 25-15 — in a little over an hour.
Before the match began there was a ceremony emceed by Curtis thanking the seniors and their families for all their hard work.
“They really lead this team,” Curtis said. “Their leadership is invaluable.”
Then the Wildcats presented their coach with a birthday cake, and their play immediately began to put the icing on the event.
Archbishop Murphy took the first point and never looked back, tearing through the first set thanks to some great blocks up at the net and a few costly errors by the Falcons.
“Without a doubt we did everything we set out to do tonight,” Curtis said, including “running an up-tempo offense.”
That up-tempo offense quickly took it’s toll on South Whidbey. Many of the Falcons’ faces were red as they hunched over trying to catch their breath in between points. South Whidbey even called a timeout to try to get it’s players a little break.
After falling behind 1-3 in the second set, Archbishop Murphy rallied to tie the score at 6-6, before going on a 19-4 run to finish with the 25-10 win.
By the final set it was obvious to everybody in the gym which team had the momentum. After going back-and-forth early in the third game, the Wildcats pulled away and senior Megan Carlson served the final five points to end the contest and begin the celebration.
“It’s how they play,” Curtis said. “At a high level all of the time. They expect it of themselves.”
The five seniors on the Archbishop Murphy team all made their presence known in their final home game.
Becca Gotz led the Wildcats with 15 kills, 13 digs and four aces. Carlson had seven kills, seven digs, three blocks and two aces.
Savannah Fletcher slammed down six kills, six blocks and two aces, Kierson Wilfley had 10 digs, two kills and two aces and Stefani Bartz had three kills and two blocks while always finding herself near the ball.
“It’s their night,” Curtis said of his seniors. “Megan Carlson. Savannah Fletcher. All of them. They earned it.”
South Whidbey (8-5, 8-5) has clinched the No. 2 seed for the District tournament, which means the Falcons will play the No. 3 2A team out of the Northwest Conference.
“Its been a great night. I commend the seniors for all their hard work to the program. Archbishop Murphy wouldn’t have a successful program without them,” Curtis said.
That successful program is now looking to its next match, the final regular season game against conference rival King’s on Tuesday night at King’s High School. The Knights beat Granite Falls 3-0 Wednesday night to remain a perfect 13-0 this season.
The Knights are the only team all season to beat Murphy, handing it a 3-0 loss at home on Oct. 1.
“That’s gonna be a good match,” Curtis said. “A good fight.”
If the Wildcats can defeat their conference rival both teams would finish the season tied atop the Cascade Conference standings, which is exactly where Curtis and his team want to see themselves.
“Our commitment is to finish strong with that last conference match,” Curtis said, hoping the birthday magic stays with his team a little longer.
David Kruger writes for The Herald.