KENNEWICK – Brooke Cooper knew it could happen.
Her Shadle Park High volleyball team knew it could happen.
Few outside of the Highlanders family, though, thought it could happen.
To the unbelievers, Cooper and the Highlanders have the biggest piece of State 3A tournament hardware as proof of a mission completed.
Shadle, in its first year in 3A after dropping down from 4A, swept the taller and harder-hitting Eastside Catholic Crusaders 25-18, 25-16, 25-19 Friday at the Toyota Center to capture the 3A championship.
It’s the first state title for Shadle (29-9) since 1993 and sixth in school history.
“I always knew we had the potential,” Cooper said. “These girls have so much fight and so much desire and so much heart that I knew they were capable of doing it. But I knew it was going to take a lot of hard work and a lot of discipline. They just really stepped up this week.”
Outside hitter Amy Before, one of four senior starters on the team, said the Highlanders knew what they had to do to take down the Crusaders.
“What we talked about before the (match) was defense,” Before said. “We knew we had to play defense.”
The smaller Highlanders, who don’t have a player taller than 6 foot, had to find a way to contain the taller Crusaders. Senior outside hitter Ellie Radich ate up Mt. Spokane in the semifinals the night before.
Radich still managed to put up a match-high 14 kills, but they were spread out.
Shadle and EC traded points in the first game until the Highlanders ran off four straight to open a 14-10 lead. The Highlanders pushed it to 21-14, and that margin stood up.
Just like the first game, the teams were tied at 10 in the second. That’s where Shadle, which finished runner-up at regionals to Mt. Spokane, started to assert control, opening a 21-13 lead. Before came up with a huge dig and turned around to put down a kill from the back row for a 22-13 lead. Senior outside hitter Nikki Urquhart got set point on a tip moments later.
The third game opened as a carbon copy of the first two. The Highlanders used a five-point surge to build a 16-11 lead. The Crusaders answered, pulling within 16-15.
Shadle wasn’t going to be denied. The Highlanders, fifth at the State 4A tourney last year, tightened up their defense and closed out the match.
Before had a team-high 18 digs to go along with 10 kills, also a team high.
“This is the best feeling I’ve ever felt in my entire life,” Before said. “I just have complete pride in my team. We played so well as a team. I’ve never worked so hard.
“I knew in my heart we could do this, but I knew it would be hard. We had to work together and play through on every point. We just had fun. That was the main thing – that we had fun.”
Senior setter Lindsay Niemeier also knew a state title was within the Highlanders’ reach.
“I thought we had the drive to do it,” said Niemeier, who had 19 assists and six kills. “It was a challenge, but I knew it was possible.”
Niemeier gave the Greater Spokane League in general – and Lewis and Clark and Mead, specifically – credit for preparing Shadle for state.
“Mead and LC are such tough competition,” Niemeier said.
Mt. Spokane (13-7) settled for seventh, falling to Mercer Island 25-18, 22-25, 25-22, 25-18.
The Great Northern League had mixed results.
Pullman topped Mark Morris 25-23, 25-20, 25-23 in its first match at the Toyota Center, but the Greyhounds were sent to the consolation bracket in a 25-22, 23-25, 25-23, 25-15 loss to Lynden in the quarterfinals.
Black Hills was too much for West Valley as the Eagles fell 25-23, 25-16, 25-12.
In Pullman’s win, sophomore middle hitter Shelby Cheslek led with 18 kills.
West Valley will meet North Mason in a loser-out match this morning at 9. Pullman takes on the Grandview/Tumwater loser at 3:30 in the afternoon.