POULSBO — North Kitsap may have lost seven players from last year’s district championship team to graduation, but its spirit lives on.
The Vikings got off to a bad start during a Sept. 10 match with Steilacoom, dropping the first two sets, but they fought back to win the final three and take the match, 21-25, 20-25, 25-18, 25-17, 15-12, improving to 2-0 on the season.
The “never say die” attitude that so permeated last year’s team was on display with this new group. They refused to quit after dropping the first two sets and refocused after committing a number of unforced errors. Even in the fifth and final set, the Vikings found themselves down 11-8 before going on a 7-1 run to take the set and the match.
“I’m really proud of them for fighting back,” head coach Tim French said. “[Steilacoom is] a tough team.”
Early season non-league games are usually sleepy affairs. But this match felt like it belonged at the end of the District 3 tournament. The atmosphere at North Kitsap High School was electric from start to finish.
“It was a really good challenge for us, being our second game,” junior Noelani Barreith, one of two returning starters, said. “Steilacoom is always in the district tournament. We always see them there.”
Senior middle blocker Taylyn Boop scored the final point, smacking down a ball that was hanging above the net as a result of a dig by a Steilacoom player that did not find a teammate.
Boop, who finished with eight blocks, was the key cog in the North Kitsap defense. While other parts of the Vikings’ overall game faltered from time to time, the play of Boop and her fellow front row players Maddie Pruden, Riley Rabedeaux and Taylor Clodfelder kept the team in the match.
“I counted on her to be up on every ball, and she was there every time,” Barreith said. “Every over ball, she’d shove it back down on them. Every block, she’d touch it. I’m really proud of her.”
Steilacoom had North Kitsap on its heels for much of the first two sets. Defensively, the Vikings struggled somewhat to stay organized and react properly to the Sentinels’ hitters. With so many new starters getting used to their full-time positions, it will likely take some time for the team to jell, though their defensive performance improved as the match went on.
“It’s still early, but we’re getting there, definitely,” Barreith said. “We’re doing team bonding, and we’re getting closer. It’s just more meshing on the court, knowing not to reach behind you because your defense is there.”
The tide began to turn as North Kitsap’s big hitters, Pruden and Rabedeaux, began to find their form. The team had committed some hitting and serving errors early on, but those were corrected as the match went on.
Set three turned North Kitsap’s way on an authoritative kill by Pruden, an unstoppable, pinpoint left-handed spike that tied the set at five.
Rabedeaux then led the way with five kills and an ace in set 4, finishing the match with 17 kills overall. Pruden added 14 kills.
“We were really trying to feed them towards the end because they were on fire,” French said.
North Kitsap 3, Steilacoom 2
21-25, 20-25, 25-18, 25-17, 15-12
Individual Stat Leaders
Kills — Rabedeaux, 17; Pruden, 14; Barreith, 12.
Assists — Leage, 40.
Digs — Barreith, 17; Belinski, 11; Rabedeaux, 10.
Blocks — Boop, 8; Clodfelder, 4.
— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at email@example.com.