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Mead powers into State 4A semifinals

LACEY, Wash. – The Mead volleyball team seemingly has as many hitters as a cat has lives.

The No. 1-ranked Panthers took care of business in their opening two matches Friday in the State 4A tournament at Saint Martin’s University. Mead swept the Auburn Riverside Ravens 25-17, 25-12, 25-15 in an opener and stopped the Camas Papermakers 25-15, 27-25, 25-15 in the quarterfinals.

Mead (29-1) takes on Olympia this afternoon at 3:15 in the semifinals.

“You never know which kids are going to step up more than any other match,” Mead coach Judy Kight said. “We’re balanced in the front row and we’re balanced in the back row. It’s a blessing.”

Senior setter Jonni Dorr agreed.

“There’s always somebody hitting,” Dorr said. “I never have to worry about anyone not taking a good swing. I have complete confidence in all my hitters. From the end of the bench to our starters they’re great.”

Senior middle blocker Paige Montgomery led in the first match, finishing with seven blocks and 11 kills. Senior Dana Norris had a team-high 12 kills.

In the quarterfinals, Mead used a 6-0 surge to open a 21-11 lead that the Papermakers couldn’t crawl out from under in the first set. Norris put away the final point.

The second set, though, was anything but easy. The Panthers trailed throughout. In fact, Camas opened a 13-7 lead.

Mead fought back, finally tying the match at 19-19 on a chip from senior outside hitter Hannah Zalopany. A kill from Montgomery gave the Panthers their first lead at 20-19.

The match was tied four more times until Norris scored the set winner.

“We knew Camas was dangerous,” Kight said. “They have good ball control and (Brindl Langley) puts it anywhere she wants it. She’s smart, and they blocked us well. We had a game plan against them that worked. I’m just proud of my girls. They showed some resilience in there. That’s something we’ve been focusing on. They came back (in the second set), they were smart and they didn’t give up.”

Dorr never doubted that her team would right the ship in the second set.

“Our coach has been preaching resilience this whole week,” Dorr said. “We did well not letting our mistakes hurt us. We were down and came back. Our goal is to not drop a set this whole tournament.”

In the third set, Mead led 17-14 but scored four straight points to begin to pull away. Natalie Kassa served an ace on match point.

Zalopany had 11 kills and Norris added 10. Senior outside hitter Taylor Ellingsen had 14 digs.

Montgomery led the Panthers in the first match.

“We’re so diverse and we can do anything really,” Montgomery said. “Once we started connecting we just clicked and went with it.”

Kight was impressed with her team’s start.

“In the first match, you just want to make sure you’re coming out strong and my kids did,” Kight said. “They feel relaxed, confident, not cocky at all – just ready.”