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University's Kayleigh Valley, Kylie Collins and Brooklynn Tacke, left to right, had the upper hand on Thursday. (Jesse Tinsley)

U-Hi defeats Mt. Spokane in GSL volleyball

Just as Mark Weis pointed out, this was a beginning – not an ending.

With the postseason quickly approaching and the Greater Spokane League volleyball regular season winding down, Thursday night presented a thrilling challenge to both University and Mt. Spokane when the two teams met to battle it out for the top 3A spot in the league.

Round one went to Weis and the Titans as senior Kayleigh Valley finished with 23 kills to lead University to a 31-29, 25-21, 15-25, 25-21 victory over the host Wildcats.

“We are fighting for that top 3A spot – and this fight isn’t over,” the U-Hi coach said. “This is Chapter One. We’re going to see them again. The win is great – it’s nice for confidence – but we can’t sit back and rest and think we got past Mt. Spokane.

“They’re still going to be challenging us the rest of the way.”

Which is exactly what the Wildcats (5-2) did on Thurday.

The first game – a 31-29 victory for U-Hi – was essentially a showcase of tough serving, scrappy defense, long rallies and highlight-reel hitting from the likes of U-Hi’s (6-1) Valley and Mt. Spokane’s Kennadie Clute and Brooke Reilly.

Clute finished with a match-high 27 kills and Reilly chipped in 14.

“That’s good volleyball right there,” Weis said. “That first set – that’s why I coach. Sure, my hair gets a little grayer (in really close matches like that). I told someone earlier one of these days I’m just going to drop dead on the floor during one of these matches. At least I’ll go happy.”

The Titans carried that momentum into the second set, which was back and forth until they took advantage of three Wildcats’ hitting errors for a 23-19 lead. Reilly and Clute each came up with a kill down the stretch, but so did U-Hi’s Valley and Ashley Lewis to close out the game for the Titans 25-21.

“We were up and down,” Mt. Spokane coach Dave Whitehead said. “They forced some errors and we made a few that we don’t normally make. We’re right with them and this was a good tune-up for us with our goal to get back to state.

“We can pull from this match.”

Especially from the third game of the match, which the Wildcats took 25-15 in the only lopsided set of the night.

U-Hi started making hitting errors and slacking on tip and block coverage, and it wound up costing it and extending the match to a fourth game.

“We just had to keep our heads in it, even if they got our balls up,” Valley said. “Eventually we noticed they were playing back on their heels a little bit, so we started hitting smarter shots into the middle and that helped a lot.

“But in Game 3, we had a momentum shift. Our heads weren’t in that game – we didn’t have as much energy.”

They found that part of their game again in the fourth set as Lewis came up with a pair of her team-leading four blocks and Valley a pair of kills as the Titans finished off the Wildcats with a 25-21 win.

“We’re going to battle them every time we play them and that’s just fine,” Whitehead said. “Game One was an amazing game. We win that one – maybe it turns the whole thing around and gives us a better chance.”

There’s always next time, when the Titans and Wildcats begin the next chapter.