When Richland volleyball coach Bob Raidl told Lauren Balone to go into last Saturdays match, she was surprised.
While the sophomore has seen her playing time increase during the season, she certainly was not expecting to replace star outside hitter Alisha Bettinson.
I was shocked it was Alisha, because she is incredible, Balone said. I just pushed that out of my mind and tried to do my best.
She didnt record a ton of stats, but she helped calm a team that trailed 2-0 to Central Valley in a winner-to-state match. The Bombers eventually rallied, and Bettinson returned to the match late to help secure the victory.
I think it gives her confidence and the team confidence in her, Raidl said. She brings a player that is athletic, quick and plays good defense. She hits the ball very hard, so the balls she hits are hard to control.
The victory sends Richland to the Class 4A state tournament, where it will face Puyallup at 1:30 p.m. Friday on Court 2 at Saint Martins University in Lacey.
Balone has only played volleyball for four years, picking the sport up in middle school. She played a lot of sports growing up, including taekwondo, which has helped her with her power from the outside hitter position.
The seasoning she is getting this year also should help down the road, as the Bombers have big plans for her.
Im expecting great things from her, Raidl said. She has big shoes to fill. You win in volleyball with your outside hitters, and I expect with her, well have one for sure. Shes gonna be one of the foundations for our team.
Thats a long way from the start of the season, when she would play only a few points per match.
She steadily improved throughout the year, culminating in her strong play this weekend.
I was just really happy that the team won, she said. I was proud that I did my job and didnt make any huge mistakes. I stayed focused throughout the game.
Balones play also showed off the depth the Bombers enjoy this season. Richland routinely has had 11 players appear in matches.
We are so strong 1-13, Richlands Kelly Breard said last Saturday. We can put anyone almost anywhere and get the job done.
Thanks to that depth and that confidence in each other, Richland was able to stage its big rally and advance to the state tournament for the third time in program history.
I learned that you should never give up, Balone said. You hear about comebacks and underdogs, and it means so much when you are the team who does it.
You should never give up, because you always might win.
w Craig Craker: 582-1509; firstname.lastname@example.org