There was a moment on Thursday night – and it certainly wasn’t the only one – when Jonni Dorr’s soft hands lifted a gorgeous back set to the right side.
There was nothing soft about the subsequent hurt Mead middle Hannah Zalopany put on the ball in picking up one of her match-leading 12 kills.
Nor was it a surprise that when two of the top volleyball teams in the Greater Spokane League met, it was the Panthers who prevailed, sweeping the visiting Mt. Spokane Wildcats 25-18, 25-11, 25-14.
“With that rivalry match, it was high energy and we know anything can happen, so I was pleased with how we handled that,” said Mead coach Judy Kight, whose Panthers are 3-0 in league play and undefeated this season.
“I think it was definitely closer than the scores indicated,” said Mead senior Taylor Ellingsen, who will play for Washington State next season.
“Everyone – on both sides – was really going after every point,” she added. “It was a great match and a great atmosphere.”
And it was Ellingsen’s impressive jump serve that pushed the Panthers to victory in the final game.
“Just keep it in,” Ellingsen said. “That’s all I wanted to do.”
She and the Panthers did much more than that.
With the Wildcats (2-1) leading 14-10, Ellingsen stepped back to serve and the Panthers took advantage of two quick unforced errors by Mt. Spokane before Ellingsen rattled off two aces to tie it up and gave the Wildcats enough serve-receive trouble on her third serve to give Mead a 15-14 lead.
“Game 3 was really slow, stop and start, and we needed to get back into our own rhythm,” Kight said. “That was a good moment for us.”
Zalopany followed with a kill and a tip, and Dana Norris – whose two older sisters each won a State 4A title under Kight in separate seasons – stretched the lead to 18-14 by blocking an overpass on Ellingsen’s serve.
“I think there were some unforced errors and our serve-receive hurt us – you can’t let a team like Mead go on a scoring run,” Mt. Spokane coach Dave Whitehead said.
“When that happens,” he added, “that’s when you get in trouble.”
That was the case as the Wildcats were never able to get a side-out on Ellingsen’s serve.
One point later, Norris punished another overpass by the Wildcats and the Panthers led 20-14. Mt. Spokane, led by seven kills from senior Kennadie Clute, couldn’t generate any more problems for Mead.
“We were right there with them for a lot of it,” Whitehead said. “And we’re still getting better. Our thing is we still need to find out our true identity and I think we will get there.”
Kight echoed that statement in the sense that she doesn’t believe her Panthers have yet arrived, either.
“We had some little breakdowns here and there, but Mt. Spokane is a good team,” Kight said. “They have everything they need to be in every game – they have some power – so it was important for us to get back to what we do.”
And it’s clearly important for the Panthers to keep upping the ante as the season moves along.
“We definitely want to get that state title this year and we’re keeping that in the back of our minds while we’re keeping an eye on every match,” Ellingsen said. “We have expectations. Last year was hard for us, but we know we can live up to expectations.”
Elsewhere in the GSL, Darby Santos finished with 25 assists and 10 aces and the Shadle Park Highlanders (1-2) swept the visiting Gonzaga Prep Bullpups 25-13, 25-16, 25-17. Rachel Stuart had a season-high 12 kills for Shadle Park, while Chloe Brooks pitched in a season-high 20 digs. Sara Mackin finished with 11 digs and two aces for the Bullpups (2-1), and setter Bianna Nikdel had a match-high 46 assists. … Sydney Schlect racked up 12 kills and 12 digs and University (2-1) swept host Lewis and Clark (1-2) 25-18, 25-16, 25-16. … Ferris (1-2) defeated visiting Rogers (1-2) 25-17, 25-20, 23-25, 25-23.