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State volleyball: Mt. Spokane claims State 3A title in dominating fashion

YAKIMA – The Mt. Spokane Wildcats brought four months of near perfection to a fitting close Saturday night, toppling Lakeside (Seattle) 3-0 to win the State 3A volleyball championship at the Yakima Valley SunDome.

The Wildcats lost just once in a best-of-5 match – to Lake City on Aug. 31 – and dropped just one set in winning four matches at state for the program’s first title.

The Wildcats’ best previous finish was second place in 2009. The win avenged a loss to the Eagles in the 2016 title match, a match in which five of the current Wildcats took part.

“We’ve got nine girls on this team from last year,” Wildcats coach Dave Whitehead said. “Last year, we thought we should have done better. To come back here and do what we’ve done here is just amazing. I’m really proud of them.”

Mt. Spokane didn’t give Lakeside a chance to get anything going in either of the first two sets. Outside hitter Malina Ama – playing with her right arm taped to counter the effects of a dislocated elbow suffered in the district tournament – punished the Eagles from the front row, repeatedly going cross-court to counter a defense that was cheating.

“We saw a couple places where we thought they had a tendency to cheat. We were able to take advantage of those spots when we were hitting them,” Whitehead said.

Ama clutched the smaller state championship plaque that the school keeps and smiled broadly as she talked about the team’s focus after the semifinal.

“We just wanted to be really confident and really prepared to play them and know that we’re coming in to play our game,” the junior said. “We just wanted to get it done and go home.”

The only time Lakeside generated an offense was in the early part of the third set. But the Wildcats kept chipping away, pulled even at 15 on a cross-court kill by Ama and took an 18-15 lead on a nice middle block by senior Katie Rhodes.

After a choppy semifinal start against defending champion Capital, the Wildcats dominated the last three sets of their 3-1 victory.

“They are good,” Whitehead said of the Cougars. “For us to step up and play like that, I was impressed.

“I thought we were nervous that first set and we didn’t play the way we can. We were overthinking, but we went back to type of volleyball that we can play. We made small adjustments as we went along. To be able to shut down a team with those weapons is an accomplishment.”

After three consecutive years in the semifinals. Mt. Spokane headed home with the big trophy. For Whitehead, the sense of satisfaction is about more than volleyball.

“We’ve got a lot of very good volleyball players,” he said. “More important than that, we’ve got a lot of really nice young ladies. It’s been an honor and a privilege to coach them.”