KINGSTON — “Start strong, finish stronger” is a mantra just about every athlete lives by. And that was the difference in the South Kitsap volleyball team’s opening night win over Kingston, Sept. 6 at Kingston.
The scrappy Buccaneers battled the Wolves throughout the four-set match, but South Kitsap pulled away from its opponent toward the end of the first and fourth sets, which ended up being the key to victory.
And it was the defense that led the way, the foundation of which is a duo of skilled middle blockers in Sarah Carlson — who led all South Kitsap players with five blocks in the match — and Natalie Miller. Both are also threats to score at any given time.
Outside hitter Madison Marggraf contributed a team-high 10 digs and libeiro Melanie Carson finished with eight.
Before the season began, South Kitsap head coach CJ Scott said the defense would have to carry the team while the offense jelled.
Miller said after her team’s victory, “It’s coming together. I think we played great and I’m really excited for the season.”
But the scorers looked ready to step up and do their part on opening night with senior setter Alison Cole, who finished with 27 assists, running the point for powerful hitters Marggraf (10 kills), Miller and junior Anna Fall (five kills).
It was a terrific spike by Fall that got the ball rolling early, and a key ace from Marggraf which gave South Kitsap a 13-8 lead in the opening set it would never relinquish.
“We can just pound the ball,” said Miller, who registered seven kills, two blocks and three digs for her club. “It’s going to be a strong point for us. We have smart placement, we know where to put the ball when we need to.”
The Wolves threatened to pull away once again in the second set, rolling up an 18-13 lead, but Kingston finally shook off the morning dew and battled back, scoring four consecutive points on two kills apiece from Ava McCabe and Sam Young. South Kitsap went on to win the second set, 25-20, but the comeback foreshadowed a wire-to-wire third set in which neither team led by more than two points.
“In the middle of the match, we hung right with them,” Kingston head coach Ed Call said. “That’s why we schedule the big schools early in the season.”
Kingston’s McCabe, who finished with 15 kills overall, scored three of her team’s final six points in the third set to help the Lady Buccaneers to a 26-24 win. Senior setter Cece Mercado tallied 42 assists in the match, perhaps none bigger than the one that facilitated freshman Morgan Halady’s set-winning point.
“We are not quite up to where we’ve been, we do need to communicate a little better,” Scott said. “We let some balls fall we shouldn’t have, but we’ll get there.”
But Scott also praised his 2A opponent, which was able to punch above its weight class for much of the match against the 4A South Kitsap squad.
“I think they’re going to be a very good team in the Olympic League,” Scott said of the Kingston squad. “They’re much improved over last year.”
The Wolves pulled away little-by-little in the fourth set, as its offense had Kingston’s defense on the move throughout. Bucs libeiro Ryley Tellinghuisen had a match-high 19 digs and senior Jane Hermanson contributed another 12, but in the end, it was Miller who came up with a couple more key kills and Carlson who closed it out with a score on a blocked volley attempt by Kingston.
— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at email@example.com.