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Mead volleyball makes semis

KENNEWICK – That ol’ Court 4 mojo showed up for the Mead Panthers volleyball team again Thursday night at the State 4A championships at the Toyota Center.

In each of the Panthers’ last two title runs in 2007 and last season, they had to survive a five-set scare on the easternmost court in the building.

Could their 25-21, 22-25, 25-20, 17-25, 15-12 thriller of a quarterfinal victory over West Central District runner-up Graham-Kapowsin be a harbinger of another state championship?

Mead, going for a seventh title in eight years this weekend, takes on Northwest District champion Jackson at 11:30 a.m. today in the semifinals – again on Court 4.

“We love this court,” said Mead coach Judy Kight, still abuzz from the fifth-set excitement.

“The more stories we can tell to the kids about what has happened in the past just allows them to believe that when they get into that experience, they can make it real for them as well.”

Kight’s daughter, Central Washington-bound senior Kaelyn, has experienced plenty of that Toyota Center magic during her time in the program. But even she was amazed at how the Panthers picked themselves off the floor after G-K rolled through the fourth set to even the match.

“Oh man, I don’t even know what to say,” said Kaelyn, who had seven of her nine kills in the decisive set. “That was just pure adrenaline. I don’t know how we did it, but we somehow pulled through. We just played with heart, guts and passion.

“We’re going to rest up tonight, and I’m so excited for tomorrow. We’re running high right now.”

After the teams split the first two sets, it appeared Mead had taken control late in the third set, breaking a 17-17 tie to take a 2-1 lead in the match.

But G-K led throughout the fourth set, going up 15-7 and holding off a Mead comeback that got the Panthers within 19-16.

The fifth set mirrored the tone of the match. Mead led 10-8 after a kill by Hannah Zalopany, but the Eagles rallied for a 12-11 lead.

Paige Montgomery’s kill tied the set at 12, and then she served the final three points, forcing an Eagles hitting error on match point.

Kuulei Zalopany led Mead with 21 kills, 20 digs and six aces. Setters Danika Christen and Jonni Dorr combined for 50 assists and 25 digs.

“We come in here with so much pressure, so much to live up to,” Kaelyn Kight said. “But we know what it’s like to play with that tradition. It’s so much fun.”

The match was a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal, when Mead swept G-K.

Mead opened the day with a four-set victory over Kentwood, rallying after dropping the first set to win 21-25, 25-17, 25-21, 25-20.