TACOMA — It was a sequence that had played out so many times over the course of the district tournament for North Kitsap.
With its ferocious blocking causing opponents to look for another way to score points, the ball was tipped lightly over the net, in hopes of catching the Vikings defense off balance.
But they were ready. Riley Rabedeaux passed the ball over to setter Rae Rosenquist, who set up Olivia Selembo for the final kill. The moment the ball landed on the court, the players erupted. They were district champions for the first time in three years, defeating Fife 25-22, 25-22, 25-21.
“This is amazing,” said sophomore Noelani Barreith, who plays just about every role for North Kitsap. “We have worked so hard for this, and to see how far we’ve come has just been amazing.”
The Vikings did not drop a single set over the course of the two-day tournament, which took place from Nov. 3-4 at Franklin Pierce High School. North Kitsap defeated the hosts and then inter-district rival Kingston and Fife to claim the district title, with its blocking and serving leading the way.
“If you get a good block up, it helps our back row and that pretty much sets up the whole entire thing,” junior middle Juliana Benson said. “So we’re always communicating with our back row, they tell us to close the block, or to move it to the left and right, and that’s a huge factor sometimes because it’s better than getting the ball up and getting a kill. That is a kill. It’s such a big factor and it shuts down the other side.”
It was not always easy for the Vikings — they found themselves trailing 16-11 in set one before they stormed back with two kills by Benson and an ace by Tori Carver.
“They’re a great team and they have such positive energy,” head coach Tim French said. “That’s huge, too.”
Fife had just won an emotional five-set thriller over White River in the semifinals, and had carried some of that momentum into the finals. But after tying the first set at 16, the Vikings battled the Trojans all the way to a 21-21 tie before Barreith broke the deadlock with another kill. North Kitsap led throughout set two and kept Fife at bay during set three to bring home the championship.
North Kitsap also committed just one service error in the finals, which made a big difference in a match in which all three sets were decided by just three or four points.
The offense was led by Selembo, who had 13 kills in all; Benson added eight and Barreith had seven. Rosenquist finished with 26 assists.
Barreith was also the team leader in digs against Fife, with 11, as she and libero Eunice Moran, who had 10 digs, were able to get to any balls that slipped through the North Kitsap blocking. Rabedeaux tallied seven digs and Selembo racked up six.
The state tournament begins at 9 a.m. on Nov. 10 at St. Martins University in Lacey. North Kitsap will take on Lynden High School in the first round. The road to a state title likely goes through teams such as Sehome, Pullman, defending 2A champion Tumwater and 2015 2A winner Burlington-Edison. The experience at the district tournament should give the Vikings an idea of what to expect at state.
“This is not a team you want to doubt,” French said of his players. “Fife is a really good team, and it’s only going to get better at state. Fife and White River are both going to be strong at state, so we’re right in there. I’ve been around long enough to know whoever is playing well at the time has a really good shot. Volleyball is about momentum. If you can gain it and keep it, you’ve got a shot.”
— Mark Krulish is a reporter Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at email@example.com.