LACEY, Wash. – All seven Mead volleyball teams that had advanced to the State 4A championship match prior to Saturday had gone home with titles.
Not this time. Bellarmine Prep was too much for the Panthers to overcome this time as the Lions outlasted Mead 25-27, 25-14, 25-20, 25-16 and 15-13 at Saint Martin’s University.
Bellarmine Prep served up too much Courtney Schwan. The 6-foot-2 junior outside hitter had a match-high 26 kills, and the dagger came when she brilliantly hit a soft tip that floated over the middle of the net and landed on the floor.
For most of the match Mead (30-2) didn’t have an answer for the hard swinger. Time and again she punished balls. On the next-to-last point, she served an ace that had the same velocity as most of her attacks.
Unforced errors were also part of Mead’s undoing. From the third set to the finish, the Panthers committed 10 serving errors.
A state title would have been a fitting end to Mead coach Judy Kight’s career. Kight acknowledged after her team’s semifinal victory that her 23rd season would be her last.
Prior to the final, Kight was inducted into the Washington State Volleyball Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame.
Mead had to fight back just to have a chance to win. Trailing 2-1 after the first three sets, the Panthers played their best in the final in the fourth set, opening a 24-14 lead.
Senior setter Jonni Dorr got a well-placed dink on set point.
The final set was back and forth. A kill by Dana Norris pulled Mead into an 11-all tie. Mead’s final lead came at 9-8.
Senior outside hitter Hannah Zalopany led Mead with 16 kills.
In the semifinals, Mead had anything but an easy match. The Panthers got off to slow starts in each set and had to pull off rallies.
No rally was more significant than in the third set. Five times the Panthers trailed by nine points.
The last nine-point hole came at 19-10. That’s when the Panthers started to turn things around.
Senior rightside hitter Mackenzie McPhee gave the Panthers a big lift off the bench in the third set, coming up with three kills at critical times.
Olympia appeared poised to force a fourth set when it was ahead 22-16. But Mead scored five straight points to pull within 22-21. The Panthers didn’t pull even until 24-24. From that point, the score was tied 11 times.
McPhee’s last big kill gave Mead a 35-34 lead and senior libero Natalie Kassa served an ace for match point.
“That was crazy. I didn’t think it was going to end,” McPhee said. “We practice being behind 20-15 in practice all the time.
“We knew we had to be resilient if we wanted to get as far as we wanted to go.”
Do the Panthers ever practice trailing by nine points?
“No. That’s just our heart right there,” McPhee said.
Kight experienced a first – a set going into the mid-30s before being decided.
“I would give a lot for a strong start,” Kight said, alluding to Mead’s slow starts in sets at state. “These kids, as soon as they get their heads into the game and start relaxing, they play great. Mackenzie McPhee played great. I have so many kids that can interchange and she came in at a pressure time and did a great job.”
Senior Taylor Ellingsen led Mead with 15 kills, Zalopany had 12 including several perfectly placed tips, and Norris and senior Paige Montgomery each had 10. Dorr had 40 assists.