There will be more than a few broken hearts before the day is over today at Freeman High School, where the Scotties play host to the Class 1A Bi-District volleyball tournament with a field chock-full of ranked teams.
Four of the six top-ranked Class 1A teams in the state and half of the Washington State Volleyball Coaches Association’s Top 10 list are entered in this tournament and will play for just three berths in next week’s state tournament in Yakima. To make matters worse, three ranked teams will play in first-round, loser-out contests.
Bottom line: At least two teams that could easily be expected to earn a trophy next weekend in the SunDome will be staying home.
Ranked No. 5 in the poll, the 12-5 Scotties find themselves opening the tournament in one of those loser-out contests, facing ninth-ranked Brewster (10-4) at 2 p.m.
“We have our backs to the wall and have to come out and play at a high level right from the start,” coach Eva Windlin-Jansen said. “This is a position we haven’t been in yet this season, but we were in this position last year and we managed to get to state. We know what it looks like and what it feels like to play in a game like this one.”
It helps that the Scotties are a senior-dominated squad with strong institutional memory, led by senior outside hitter Kaela Straw.
Caribou Trail League co-champion Chelan (13-1), which was ranked No. 1 just last week, fell to No. 3 in the current state poll and faces unranked Riverside in the second loser-out contest.
“The big hurdle is getting past that first game,” Windlin-Jansen said. “Once you get through the loser-out game, you get a second chance to go to state if you lose.”
The Freeman-Brewster winner faces sixth-ranked Cascade of Leavenworth (13-1) in the semifinal. The Chelan-Riverside survivor faces fourth-ranked Lakeside (14-2). Those semifinal matches will be at 4 p.m. The championship game, which will determine the No. 1 and 2 seeds into the state tournament, will be played at 6 p.m., as will the loser-out/winner-to-state game.
Playing on their home court is kind of a double-edged sword, Windlin-Jansen said.
“When you’re at home, there are always more distractions around you,” she said. “You have friends and family and school. When you have to go on the road and you’re in a hotel together, it’s a little easier to stay focused.”
On the other hand, the support of the community and school pride more than make up for the potential distractions – especially when you open up with a loser-out game.
“That’s a big deal,” the coach said. “It doesn’t matter what the sport is – football, basketball, volleyball – this community comes out to support us. And pride is a big deal. We’re playing on our home court. We know that court and we’ll have a big crowd there to cheer us on.”
The Scotties enter the tournament with a well-tested, veteran lineup, but little advance scouting on the three teams from Central Washington.
But that’s not necessary, Windlin-Jansen said. There are few secrets in the volleyball world.
“It doesn’t really matter what they do or how they play,” she explained. “We need to play our game and execute under pressure. That’s the bottom line. We can only control how we play and that’s all that matters.
“We’ve played against some outstanding competition and we know we’re capable of playing that level.”
Freeman has played a number of Class 4A volleyball teams this season, including a pair of matches with Central Valley and match-ups in the annual Crossover Classic tournament at Lewis and Clark against the host Tigers and Chiawana.
In a non-league match last month, the Scotties gave the Lady Bears all they could handle in a four-game match at CV. Freeman rallied again and again throughout the match, taking the third game 27-25.
“That kind of competition is very helpful,” the coach said. “We would have been happier with a different outcome, but the experience is very good. You learn that you can compete at that level.”
When you can play with teams from the Greater Spokane League, you can play with anyone.
Of the 14 players on the Freeman varsity roster, six are seniors: Straw, defensive specialist Samantha Avey, middle Dani Reilly, and outside hitters Alex Armtrout, Brooke Coumont and Molly McIntyre.
Six more are experienced juniors, including setter Brooke Riddle, a three-year starter.
“We’ve had two very strong classes back-to-back,” the former Gonzaga University head coach said. “We have some very good athletes in this community and many of them choose to play volleyball. It’s not always their first choice, of course, but we can work with that. It takes a little flexibility during the summer, when there are so many different things all going on at the same time. Once the volleyball season starts, they’re all focused on the same thing.”