LACEY — This wasn’t the way it was supposed to end.
The Southridge volleyball team had been writing the script to their 2013 season for months, and the ending was filled with happiness and the first state title in program history.
Instead, the season came to a bittersweet end with a third-place trophy.
The top-ranked Suns were stunned in five grueling sets by Mercer Island in the semifinals Saturday at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, ending any hopes they had of a title.
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“Of course it’s disappointing,” Southridge senior Kimmy Brinkworth said, “because we didn’t reach our top goal, but at the end of the day third place is nothing to be ashamed of. Can’t be sad about third place out of — how many teams in the state?”
The Suns (29-2) grabbed the third-place trophy thanks to a 25-27, 26-24, 25-21, 27-25 victory over Columbia River. It is the second consecutive season the Suns have finished third in the state, and those are the only two trophies the program has ever won.
But it wasn’t the trophy Southridge set out to get this weekend. The Suns came into the tournament heavy favorites, only losing one match this season and that was a best-of-three without setter Kylie Fraga.
That’s what made the loss to Mercer Island even more stunning, especially because Southridge led 2-1 in sets. The Islanders eventually won the match 20-25, 26-24, 21-25, 25-19, 15-12.
“There are so many emotions going right now,” said Fraga, who was named to the all-tournament team along with teammate Makenna Behrens. “Obviously, our goal was to win, but we just didn’t go out and play like we should have.”
The signs of impending doom were evident early in the match against Mercer Island, as the Suns let the Islanders make the first set a bit close after having a nine-point lead.
After dropping the second set, though, Southridge seemed to take firm control, jumping out to an 11-2 lead and rolling like they had throughout the tournament.
But a common theme soon reared its ugly head as the Suns began to make unforced errors, struggling with their serve-receive and unable to dig out the balls Mercer Island’s prodigious outside hitters were sending their way.
“We came in and thought we were just going to play like we had the day before and the way we had at regionals,” Brinkworth said. “We kind of made some unforced errors and at the end of the day, those unforced errors cost us.
“We didn’t realize it was going to be that close of a match and just those few things ended up costing a few points at the end.”
The Suns eventually held on to win the third set but were never in the fourth set, trailing by six to eight points throughout.
In the final set, with a packed house watching, Southridge took a 12-11 lead, but it was the final time they’d score.
“I knew coming in Mercer Island was going to be a tough match,” Southridge coach John Lengphounpraseut said. “I didn’t expect us to struggle with our offense, though. Our defense had some lapses. That was our worst defensive match of the year.”
The Suns bounced back, though, by finishing with a victory.
They dropped the first set to Columbia River, but strong play by Brinkworth, Fraga and senior Emma Spurlock — who missed most of the season with injury — helped the Suns rally.
“We lost (to Mercer Island) and then we kind of had to recuperate,” Brinkworth said. “We had to sit down and take a break and separate and come back and refocus.
“We may not have gotten our ultimate goal, but we wanted to prove to ourselves (that we could win).”
The Suns did just that, and even got a trophy to represent that victory. It just wasn’t the one they wanted.
Mercer Island d. Southridge 20-25, 26-24, 21-25, 25-19, 15-12. Kimmy Brinkworth 19 kills, 6 blocks; Alyssa Palmer 12 kills, 30 digs; Jordan Mix 12 kills, 15 digs; Makenna Behrens 31 digs, 2 aces; Rylee Russell 14 digs; Paige Thompson 9 kills, 5 blocks; Kylie Fraga 50 assists, 19 digs, 2 aces
Southridge d. Columbia River 25-27, 26-24, 25-21, 27-25. Brinkworth 14 kills, 6 blocks, 8 digs; Emma Spurlock 11 kills; Palmer 10 kills, 14 digs; Mix 9 kills, 16 digs; Thompson 8 kills, 10 blocks; Russell 15 digs; Fraga 43 assists, 13 digs