Sports pundits say that in the fast moving game of volleyball, timing, a solid mental approach and momentum are three of the most important facets of the game.
When the Sumner High squad packed up its No. 1 regular-season ranking and 27-1 overall mark and headed out to last week’s Class 3A state volleyball tournament odyssey at Kennewick’s Toyota Center, the Spartans were clearly among the favorites to take home the championship trophy.
Sumner displayed some atrocious timing, however, losing for only the second time all season, falling Thursday to Bishop Blanchet in the tournament’s McMuffin match (9 a.m. on Court One) 25-16, 25-19, 25-23. The early tournament loss obliterated any hopes for a state title. The Spartans showed plenty of mental toughness, though, and bounced back to leave the Tri-Cities Friday with a fifth-place trophy.
So again, just like last year, it was those brazen Bishop Blanchet Braves who proved to be the thorn in the Spartans’ side, as everything the powerful Sumner crew rocketed over the net rose from the land of lost points.
“We did nothing in practice all week long but work on defending against the kinds of stuff that Sumner does. I guess you could say our hard work paid big dividends,” said second-year Blanchet coach Matt Chang, whose contingent lost to eventual state champion Shadle Park in the semis, then claimed third place in the big show by trashing Lakes High in three games.
“Sumner is a tough team and we probably played our best match of the year to emerge victorious,” he said. “I think our girls stepped up big time and played hard. They did everything we asked them to do. They were awesome!”
“Blanchet was on a mission to beat us today, there was no doubt about it,” Sumner coach Mike Fitzpatrick said. “They just played us extremely well, were sitting back and waiting for the big bombs to come over the net and were returning just about everything we threw at them.
“They were very prepared for us and they proved that they deserved to be in the state tournament.”
So, after only their second setback of the season the Spartan volleyballers had two options: either cry over spilled milk or come back strong and show folks they deserved the acclaim. They chose the latter, battling their way back through the loser’s bracket to easily beat Holy Names Academy and Camas High – both in three games – and then put away a tenacious Kennedy High bunch in the trophy round 25-20, 26-24, 18-25 and 25-21, to wind up fifth.
“If there is one thing you can say about this team, it is that they persevere,” Fitzpatrick said. “They started the season this summer with a grueling weight training program, they managed to fight their way through not having their starting setter in the middle of a strenuous season and this weekend we surged back and did the best we could have possibly done after losing to Blanchet, finishing better than we have done at state in a long time.
“These girls are stubborn scrappers, I’ll give them that.”
Reach John Leggett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-802-8207.