SILVERDALE — Take an emotional five-set win over Gig Harbor in their previous match, add in the fact that Thursday night served as the Cougars’ home-opener in a shiny new gym and you have the recipe for a team that may come out a little too amped up.
But Central Kitsap regrouped quickly and erased Timberline’s 12-9 set one lead and ultimately swept the Blazers, 25-20, 25-20, 25-12 to improve to 2-1 on the season.
Senior hitter Riley Knapp led what should be a very potent offense this season with 12 kills.
“I think we came out a little too cocky and Timberline got stronger since the last time we saw them,” Knapp said. “But overall we progressed over the match and it started to click.”
There were a few bumps in the road. Their passing and serve receive struggled at times, but when it finally clicked the offense proved unstoppable. Knapp blasted a kill in the first set to open a 17-15 lead and that was followed by two aces from Reegan Stark. That sequence helped the Cougars pull away in set one.
“She’s a little pistol,” head coach Rebecca Arthur said of Knapp. “She’s the heart, she keeps them going.”
Stark herself was a menace at middle blocker, throwing up hazards left and right that stymied the Timberline offense. Stark finished with 8 blocks and three kills in the match, teaming with sophomore middle blocker Camryn Lingenbrink (four blocks, three kills) to keep the Blazers off-balance.
Knapp, Stark and Natalie and Maggie Cole are the only four seniors on the roster, but Arthur said they have set the tone with the way they show up ready to practice and prepare.
“It’s good leadership,” Arthur said. “And I think you see that on the court.”
Everything came together in the third set as the Cougars got out to a 12-3 start and scoring 15 of their 25 points on kills. Their first passes were much crisper, allowing junior setter Keahi Sarono to put the ball on a tee for her hitters. Sarono finished the match with 21 assists to go along with three service aces and four kills.
“Keahi is doing a great job getting the ball to our hitters,” Arthur said. “That’s coach [Katie] Pasi, our new coach, who has been working with her on decision making.”
Central Kitsap never allowed Timberline back into the set, answering each point with a mini run. Knapp added one last kill to give her team a 23-12 lead and then Lingenbrink finished off the match with a kill and a block.
The Cougars have passed some tough early season tests, but the always talented Tides and the much-improved Blazers offered only a taste of what’s to come. There are no nights off on the volleyball court in the South Sound Conference. Their only loss this season is to Capital, which finished third in the 3A state tournament last season.
“This is the toughest conference top to bottom that I think any school can play in,” Arthur said. “They are no truly weak teams. There is not a big drop off between No. 1 and No. 7.”
—Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MKrulishKDN.