The Mead Panthers are regional volleyball champions again and Paige Montgomery was smack in the middle of it.
One of two junior middle blockers, Montgomery was the driving force, whether hitting or blocking, in a three-game sweep of Wenatchee during Saturday’s finals at home.
For the Panthers, qualifying for state is old hat.
But in garnering a second State 4A berth for the Greater Spokane League, Central Valley negotiated previously uncharted waters.
The Bears bounced back from their semifinal loss to Mead and survived a tense five-game match against Walla Walla for the school’s first state volleyball appearance.
Mead’s Montgomery accounted for 17 Panthers points during her front-row rotation against Wenatchee. Included was a second-game run of six points in a row when she put down three kills and three blocks.
“Wasn’t she something?” Mead coach Judy Kight said. “She’s had several matches when she was over .500 (hitting) and her accumulative is over .420. That’s unheard of. Tonight she was shining.”
The reticent Montgomery let her actions speak louder than her words in sparking her team, ranked No.1 in a recent coaches’ poll, to yet another State 4A volleyball tournament next weekend at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey.
“We just focus on keeping it in (play) and if you get a good set, taking advantage of it,” she said, deferring to teammates. “My back row just talks to me and tells me what’s open.”
More often than not she found what was open on offense and flummoxed Wenatchee hitters at the net on defense.
By contrast, their opponent found it difficult to find an opening anywhere on the court.
“I feel our defense was incredible,” Kight said. “They were on fire tonight.”
Mead’s scores against Wenatchee, seeded third out of the Columbia Basin League’s district tourney, were 25-17, 25-14, 25-13 in the title match which took just more than an hour to complete.
Wenatchee advanced to state by winning the second regional semifinal over district champion Walla Walla in four games.
Mead’s toughest foe, it turned out, was Central Valley which had never made it to a regional semifinal.
The Bears lost two close games, 25-17 and 25-22. They trailed just 15-14 in game one before the Panthers scored the game’s final five points.
The second game was tied at 20 before another strong Panthers finish. Montgomery totaled seven points in the match.
Mead ran away 25-8 in game three, leaving first-year CV coach Chris Kosty visibly upset. His fiery postmatch talk put the onus on his girls to refocus in the match for state.
“We’re missing by inches,” he told them. “When you have a team on the ropes, you have to be ruthless.”
The Bears were in their pressure-packed, do-or-die contest against Walla Walla, alternating losses and wins before pulling out the 15-12 decider.
“It’s a very nice Cinderella story,” Kosty said. “They have a lot of physical talent, but it was just a matter of getting that talent focused for one purpose.”