There’s no denying that Walla Walla has all the right pieces and parts to be a force on the Mid-Columbia Conference volleyball scene.
Noelani Helm had 16 kills and Hannah Hair and Emma Wenzel combined for 15 blocks Thursday night as the Blue Devils outlasted the host Hanford Falcons 25-20, 23-25, 23-25, 25-13, 15-10.
“It was one of the best matches we have played all season,” Wa-Hi coach Tracy Rotert said. “It was very nice to get this win.”
The Blue Devils (6-2), who are second in the MCC standings behind Richland (8-0), evened their season series with the Falcons (4-4), who won their opening match of the season at Walla Walla.
“It was one of the best matches we have played in a long time,” Hanford coach Nichelle Meador said. “We got beat tonight, we did not lose. I’m super proud of how they handled things. Even though we won the first time around, we knew it would be tough tonight.”
Tied at two sets apiece, the fifth set lit a fire under both teams. They played to five ties, with the last being 10-10. From there, the Blue Devils took over.
Faith Hoe blocked Hanford’s Teagan Gust-Townsend for an 11-10 lead, then Wenzel and Makenzie Frost blocked Caylee Shelton to put Hanford on the ropes.
“They have very good blocking on their side of the net,” Meador said.
Two unforced errors by Hanford brought about match point, which the Blue Devils took with a kill down the middle of the Falcons’ defense.
“The unforced errors at the end hurt us,” Meador said. “We need to work on our stamina not to run out of gas.”
After Walla Walla won the first set, the Falcons stormed back to win the second and third sets by identical 25-23 scores.
Shelton had back-to-back kills to seal the deal in the second set, then served for six points and had the final kill — from the back row — in the third to give the Falcons a 2-1 lead.
“She was the biggest problem for us,” Rotert said of Shelton. “She gave us big problems. She has a great arm.”
Shelton finished with a match-high 28 kills, and added 25 digs and three blocks. Macy Jensen had seven kills and 22 digs, and Kaitlyn Thompson 49 assists.
Hanford jumped out to a 6-1 lead to start the fourth set, only to see Walla Walla get a string of five points from Wenzel to take a 7-6 lead.
After a 7-all tie, the Blue Devils took over and the Falcons’ unforced errors mounted. Hanford could not get back on track.
“In the fourth set, we started playing a little nervous and tense,” Rotert said. “We are a team that needs to relax, when that happens, good thing happen. Emma was huge on those blocks in the fourth and fifth games. This team feeds off those blocks, and Noelani’s kills tonight were amazing.
Set scores: Walla Walla 25-20, 23-25, 23-25, 25-13, 15-10. Walla Walla: Noelani Helm 26K, 18 assts, 12 digs, 2 aces; Hannah Hair 10K, 8B; Emma Wenzel 7B, 8K; Emily Dimino 21 digs, 4 aces; Jordan Wicklund 29 assts, 3 aces. Hanford: Caylee Shelton 28K, 3 aces, 25 digs, 3B; Sage Sjogren 6K, 3B; Macy Jensen 7K, 1 ace, 22 digs; Kaitlyn Thompson 49 assts, 2 aces, 8 digs; Teagan Gust-Townsend 5K, 9 digs.