Women's volleyball makes short run
By Bryce Fecarotta - Staff Reporter
TACOMA – Energy radiated from the court as the Thunderbirds rocketed volleyballs across the court to each other before their first NWAC Championship Tournament match here last Thursday.
A whole season of perspiration and aspirations had led to the moment, and the anticipation filled the room as Highline warmed up to play against the No. 4 Clark Penguins.
Behind the hard hitting of Zoe Gaines and Taylor Bell, Highline quickly exploded past the Penguins in the first set with a 21-13 lead.
But after the strong start, the momentum seemed to fizzle. Clark's Olivia White, finished on the first-team All-Tournament team, led her team to a 9-1 run, tying the set at 22-22.
The Thunderbirds responded to the challenge and began launching blows, bringing them all the way to a 29-29 deadlock.
It seemed Clark was going to gain the advantage when Delaney Tuholski got a kill to bring them to 30, but the ref called a net violation and the Thunderbirds got the point and the serve.
Highline did not squander its opportunity and finished off the set, 31-29.
After that set, the Thunderbirds seemed outmatched for two sets. The Penguins brought the T-Birds back to earth, beating them 25-11 and then 25-10.
Later, freshman Adrienne Haggerty commented on the domino effect the sloppy second set had.
"It definitely played into that third set. It's hard to come out of a hole, but obviously in the fourth set we got out of the hole," Haggerty said.
The fourth set showed the Thunderbirds' fortitude that they've fought with all season. They got out to another 22-14 lead, but Clark chipped at the lead one point at a time until the game was tied 24-24.
The T-Birds were not discouraged.
The Thunderbirds put the game away quickly and scored two straight, to win the fourth set 26-24 to force a fifth set.
The fifth set was a gritty battle that ended in bitter disappointment.
"It just came down to who could make less errors. We fought but it was around the tenth point things started to get away from us," Haggerty said.
The Thunderbirds lost their last set 15-11, and were forced to fight for their lives later that evening in the loser's bracket against Spokane (35-11).
Yet again, the T-Birds enjoyed another strong start and won their first set 25-21. They dropped the second set 25-12, and watched their championship hopes crash to earth, falling 15-11.
The early elimination was surely not how the Thunderbirds wanted their season to end, but the season was not a dud.
The sophomores on the team didn't soar to a championship, but have more to look forward to in their future with volleyball and have plenty to remember their time at Highline.
"It's kinda exciting because me and the other two are moving on to something new, we're moving on and gonna play volleyball," sophomore Lindsey Nein said, "it's also sad because I really love this group of girls and this has been home the past two years. I'm definitely gonna miss the Thunderdome."
For Zoe Gaines, being named MVP for the West Region during the regular season was surely one of the high points in her time with Highline.
"I didn't expect to hear that [being named MVP] when I went into practice Monday. It felt amazing, I was speechless when my coach told me. I looked around the room and started crying because I was so happy. I'm blessed to have been a part of this team," Gaines said.
Next season, the Thunderbirds will have an experienced team that learned a lot from this season.
"I think being a freshman- based team they've gotten used to college volleyball, they've gotten used to college coaching, less thinking, learning to take the game slower, everyone's getting smarter and a lot of good things," Head Coach Chris Littleman said.
Next season, the young players will have a rare opportunity to play on a team full of sophomores that they've already spent a season building chemistry with for a chance to launch another assault on their NWAC foes.