LACEY — It’s not supposed to be this easy at the state tournament.
The Southridge volleyball team opened play Friday by sweeping Bishop Blanchet and Oak Harbor, the latter in just 45 minutes to advance to the Class 3A semifinals at 3:15 p.m. today.
“We were excited to play this morning, but we kind of hesitated and came out nervous,” Southridge senior Kimmy Brinkworth said of the opening match. “We came out (in the quarters) and said, ‘We just need to dominate. We need to play our game and do what we need to do. We only have three matches left to prove that we deserve to be here.’”
Southridge defeated Blanchet 25-13, 25-22, 25-12 in the opener and Oak Harbor 25-12, 25-14, 25-16 in the quarterfinals at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey.
The Suns advanced to the semifinals for a second consecutive season and are seeking the first state title in program history.
“It is very exciting,” sophomore Makenna Behrens said of advancing, “but also nerve-wracking because we lost last year. We just have to prove that we deserve to be in the finals.”
In 2012, the Suns placed third after losing to North Thurston in the semifinals. This season they are planning on going much further.
They have that opportunity thanks to the pair of sweeps.
In the quarterfinal match, Oak Harbor’s Kayleigh Harper gave the Suns some issues early on. The 6-foot-3 middle blocker put down six kills in the early going and had her Wildcats within 14-12.
Some adjustments defensively, though, helped spur the Suns to an 11-0 run to change the tone of the match.
“We did a good job of listening to our coaches and adjusting our block and adjusting our defense,” Brinkworth said. “We did a good job of shutting them down mentally and physically.”
That included a strong defensive showing from not just Behrens, but also Alyssa Palmer, Rylee Russell and Jordan Mix.
“Our defense has been overlooked by a lot of teams,” Southridge coach John Lengphounpraseut said. “We are a scrappy team. We don’t let many balls drop. That is one of our strengths.”
It was evident against Oak Harbor, as the young Wildcats struggled to sustain any offense after the early success.
“I think we thought if they hit it over the net (Southridge) would make some mistakes,” Oak Harbor coach Kerri Molitor said, “but they don’t.
“Southridge, for the 3A schools, they are the most solid — the best team we’ve seen I think.”
Kylie Fraga was also strong against Oak Harbor, serving the final 11 points in the first set, and recording six aces in the match.
But it was the defense that helped turn the tide led by 17 digs by Behrens, 13 from Palmer and nine from Mix. Brinkworth and Mix each had 15 kills, while Fraga added 34 assists.
In the opener, Palmer played strong defensively, as Blanchet tried to pick on her on the right side. She finished with 23 digs and 10 kills.
“I think we did really well,” Fraga said. “We came out really strong as a team and really played together.
“We were kind of nervous at first. We were freaking out a bit, but as the game went on we got in our routine and played really well.”
Fraga finished with 32 assists, 13 digs, five kills and an ace in that match. Brinkworth and Mix added 10 kills and Paige Thompson had five blocks.
All in all, it was about as perfect a day as the Suns could ask for to open the state tournament.
Now they hope that today is just as nice.
“It’s a great feeling to go back (to the semis),” Brinkworth said. “We wanted it so bad last year and didn’t get the chance to go to the finals. We are going to go all out (today) because we have nothing left to lose.
Southridge def. Oak Harbor 25-12, 25-14, 25-16. Kimmy Brinkworth 15 kills, 3 blocks; Jordan Mix 15 kills, 9 digs; Alyssa Palmer 7 kills, 13 digs; Makenna Behrens 17 digs, 1 ace; Paige Thompson 4 blocks; Kylie Fraga 34 assists, 6 digs, 6 aces; Rylee Russell 8 digs.
Southridge def. Bishop Blanchet 25-13, 25-22, 25-12. Brinkworth 10 kills, 3 blocks; Palmer 10 kills, 23 digs; Mix 10 kills, 13 digs; Behrens 23 digs; Russell 14 digs, 1 ace; Fraga 32 assists, 13 digs, 1 ace, 5 kills; Thompson 4 kills, 5 blocks
w Craig Craker: 582-1509; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @Craig_Craker