KENNEWICK – The third-place match at any state tournament may be the ultimate gut-check.
That’s even more true at the 4A state volleyball championships.
While Mead played Olympia for third and sixth place Friday evening at the Toyota Center, on an adjoining court Issaquah and Jackson were vying for the ultimate prize.
“That was tough for us,” said Mead senior Kuulei Zalopany.
The Panthers fell to eventual champion Jackson in four sets in the semifinals, 25-16, 13-25, 25-23, 25-23, then bounced back to outlast Olympia to take third place, 25-22, 27-25, 17-25, 22-25, 16-14.
“This was not what we wanted,” said Zalopany, who had 14 kills and 23 digs in her final high school match and was named to the all-tournament team. “But third is better than sixth. We realized we were still a great team, and we pushed through to win that match.”
Coach Judy Kight talked after Thursday’s quarterfinal win over Graham-Kapowsin about the adversity her team faced this week, a point on which she elaborated after the semifinals.
Injuries played a part in derailing Mead’s title defense. Kight’s daughter, CWU-bound senior Kaelyn, ripped a ligament in her ankle at practice Tuesday and sat out part of the Jackson match, while the Panthers’ other middle hitter, sophomore Paige Montgomery, played through an ankle sprain suffered at regionals.
Also, Zalopany needed a cortisone shot to play through a bulging disk in her back.
“It just didn’t work out our way this year, but that’s all right,” coach Kight said. “These girls showed a lot of fortitude and courage.”
More than the injuries, the Panthers simply couldn’t overcome their own mistakes in their semifinal loss against the Northwest District champion Timberwolves.
In the third set, for instance, after fighting back from a 13-6 deficit to take a 23-21 lead, Mead was called for being in the net on back-to-back points – including set point.
“Jackson was very consistent and played a good match,” Kight said. “But if we play the Mead way, that would have been a different match. We made too many errors, and we’re not going to win that way.”