PORT ORCHARD — Life is never easy when you play in a league with a top three team in the state and a few others that can go toe-to-toe with them on a nightly basis.
And for South Kitsap, a team that starts a number of underclassmen and brings in several others off the bench, it has been a baptism by fire playing against the likes of Puyallup, Emerald Ridge, Bellarmine Prep and Graham-Kapowsin.
The Wolves got an up-close look at some of the state’s top players this week, starting Monday with a match against Puyallup and its high-powered hitters.
Head coach C.J. Scott said the team played well even though they fell in straight sets.
“Some of our younger girls are finally getting a little more comfortable and confident,” Scott said.
On Wednesday, South Kitsap welcomed Graham-Kapowsin, which is off to a 5-1 start in league play this season and features a hard-hitting freshman in Hailey Brockway and another top-notch scorer in junior Makenna Jackson.
The team had plenty of energy and enthusiasm, and were noticeably more communicative than they had in their previous home game against Bellarmine. Both Scott and the players felt they had let a golden opportunity to steal a league win slip away against the Lions and vowed to improve that in subsequent matches.
“I wish we could have brought that [against Bellarmine],” Scott said.
Playing without starting middle blocker Faith Smith, the Wolves got off to a slow start in set one. A few too many errors combined with their opponent’s hot hitting put them behind early; the Eagles ultimately put together a 15-2 run and put away the set with ease.
Instead of folding, South Kitsap responded well to the adversity.
In set two, a kill by sophomore Ashlyn Potz and a block from freshman Anna Harvey were part of a 4-0 run that pulled the team within one point, 11-10. They did their best to keep the Eagles from going off on an extended run with some scrappy defense and strong digging, but Brockway was able to reel off several consecutive points to open up a seven-point lead for Graham-Kapowsin. South Kitsap lost the set 25-17.
The Wolves looked as though they were on the verge of taking a set away from Graham-Kapowsin in set three. The Wolves never let the Eagles get more than three points ahead. A Harvey block and a Potz ace were part of a short run late in the set that gave them a 19-18 lead. The Eagles called timeout and Scott spoke with his team about learning to play with the lead.
“We had that conversation — how do you finish? You have to want the ball,” Scott said.
Graham-Kapowsin was ultimately able to rally to finish off the match in three sets, but Scott was pleased with his team’s effort and play, especially in light of the fact that his lineup heavily relied on two freshmen, a sophomore and three juniors.
Potz, a sophomore, has become one of South Kitsap’s most consistent players who excels in all roles. Juniors Lanah Duque and Hailey Robinson bring incredible energy and defense to the back row and Robinson also serves as a setter part-time. The two freshmen, Harvey and Vinisha Celis are looking more confident in each passing match in their blocking and hitting roles. Juniors Fe’Nani Frogge-Mendiola and Talia Gamboa-Poole have also been solid contributors as hitters.
South Kitsap returns to the court next Monday to take on Rogers, but then gets to play some of the league’s lower-ranked teams in Curtis, Sumner and Olympia. The Wolves are still alive for a playoff berth, but will likely have to win three out of their next four to qualify for the West Central/Southwest bi-district tournament.
Graham-Kapowsin 3, South Kitsap 0
25-12, 25-17, 25-19
Kills — Potz 4, Curtis 3, Frogge-Mendiola 3.
Assists — Potz 9, Robinson 5.
Digs — Potz 8, Duque 7, Robinson 5.
Blocks — Harvey 3, Frogge-Mendiola 1, Colson 1.
Aces — Potz 1, Aguero 1.
— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MKrulishKDN.