By Greg Lee
KENNEWICK – The track record all state tournament – all postseason for that matter – were sweeps by the Mead volleyball team.
The No. 1-ranked Panthers not only expected to capture the State 4A championship Friday evening, they thought it might come the same way their previous eight postseason victories had come.
Improbable doesn’t begin to describe what transpired at the Toyota Center, though. Down two sets and trailing 20-12 in the third, Mead somehow found a way to pull off a comeback, knocking off the Curtis Vikings 23-25, 25-27, 26-24, 25-23, 15-12.
It was the seventh straight title by a Greater Spokane League team and sixth this decade by Mead, seventh overall.
Mead (32-2), which never lost the first two sets of a match all season, hadn’t lost a set since the Crossover Classic in early October, and the Panthers cruise through district, regionals and their first three state matches.
But the Vikings (23-4) took Mead to the brink.
“That was a remarkable finish,” Mead coach Judy Kight said. “I told the kids after we lost the second set that when we played here two years ago we had to go five and we won it.”
Kight was alluding to a semifinal victory over Rogers Puyallup in which the Panthers rallied from a similar deficit.
“That’s what we had to do here and they just gutted it out,” Kight said.
Senior middle hitter Alexis Olgard said the Panthers didn’t have a sense of panic.
“We were down, but we didn’t let it get to us,” Olgard said. “We’ve dealt with it (pressure) before. I knew we could do it.”
And Olgard, naturally, was in the middle of the comeback. She finished with a match-high 33 kills to go along with 10 blocks and 13 digs.
Through the first two sets, though, Curtis did a good job digging up a number of Olgard’s swings. In fact, few Mead hits reached the floor without being touched.
“That’s what we’ve been talking about all season long – when we get into the state championship (match) are we going to be able to dig her up,” Curtis coach Jeff Grosshans said of defending Olgard specifically.
Trailing by eight points in the third set, the Panthers began pecking away at the deficit. They finally tied it at 22-22 on an Olgard kill. Moments later, Olgard got a block to put Mead ahead 24-23. Another Olgard kill put the Panthers ahead at 25-24 and Chenise Pakootas got the set winner with a block.
Mead trailed the first half of the fourth set before pulling even at 12-12. The Panthers took the lead for good at 20-19 but they still had to withstand some tense moments before a chip shot by freshman Hannah Zalopany pushed the match to a deciding set.
Behind a tip from Kuulei Zalopany, the Panthers took the lead for good in the fifth at 9-8. A tip from Mady Dahlstrom somehow crawled over the net for a point at 14-12 and then Danika Christen served an ace for match point.
Others who had big key contributions were Kaely Kight with 14 kills, 21 digs and seven blocks and setter Emma Barrington had 38 assists.
Barrington said Mead practiced situations like it faced in the final.
“We knew we could do it because we’ve done it in practice,” Barrington said. “Some of us had been in situations like this and we knew we could do it.”
Mead advanced to the title match with a 25-15, 25-14, 25-20 win over Graham-Kapowsin.
Olgard had 14 kills and 21 digs. Kight had a season-high 13 kills.
“We did a good job moving the ball around and getting it to all the hitters,” Kaely Kight said. “We were crisp. We really played well.”
Lewis and Clark (18-9) captured fourth, topping Olympia 22-25, 25-21, 25-22, 25-20.
Janele Vogt led LC with 19 kills and 13 digs. Setter Malea Webb had 42 assists.