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Sports >  High school sports

District volleyball: Mead, Mt. Spokane rivalry takes on new meaning with postseason implications

Mead and Mt. Spokane are bitter rivals in every sport. Now that Mead has reclassified from 4A to 3A, that rivalry takes on additional meaning as the teams now must go through each other in the district playoffs – or perhaps even later down the road.

While Mt. Spokane has been the class of Greater Spokane League volleyball, including state titles in 2018 and ’19 and an “East Region” title in the spring, this season it’s Mead (13-2, 9-0) in the driver’s seat, courtesy of a five-set win over the Wildcats (13-1, 9-1) on Oct. 12.

The teams find themselves on opposite sides of the bracket for the District 8 3A tournament, which starts Thursday, but both expect they will face off again this season – if not in the district title match, perhaps at the Yakima Valley SunDome during the state tournament.

Three teams qualify for state out of District 8.

“It is weird thinking about it because they’ve never been 3A,” Mt. Spokane outside hitter and all-state selection Teila Allen said of Mead. “I think it just makes the rivalry even more intense.”

Emotionally ready

Panthers coach Shawn Wilson likes his team’s chances in districts.

“We have a lot of experience, really good team chemistry, a lot of size and just really solid players all the way one through eight,” Wilson said.

“The way we’re playing right now, I think we’re pretty tough to beat. Mt. Spokane is really good. They’re really strong. They have one of the best players in the city and maybe the state by far. But I don’t know, when it comes down to matchups, I think we have a little bit of the edge there.

“But then, volleyball is an ebb-and-flow sport. You never know emotions, right? So it depends on who’s emotionally ready, I think.”

Wilson relies on his two captains, 6-foot-2 middle blocker Emily Hutchinson and setter Madi Zorn, to lead on and off the court.

“I kind of get a little bit of mix of the bigs and the smalls,” Wilson said. “They’re both extremely good leaders and accepting of everybody on the team and supports everybody. Definitely the kind of players you want to have on your team.”

Hutchinson loves the rivalry between the two schools

“100%,” she said. “That’s the one that we look forward to the most. I personally know some of the girls on Mt. Spokane and they’re a super-great team, super competitive. I love playing them. It’s definitely my favorite game of the whole year.”

Zorn thinks the Panthers draw their strength from within.

“I feel like a lot of it comes from our team culture,” she said. “Like, a lot of people don’t think about that. You think about the skills and you think about all that, but a lot of it comes from, we all love each other and we all love on each other and we all want to play for each other.”

Zorn loves the rivalry aspect too, but with all the hype they have to keep things in perspective.

“We do the same thing every day that we always do,” she said. “You don’t want to put too much pressure, you know. It’s just same practice, same game of volleyball.”

Pressure to succeed

Mt. Spokane volleyball’s success is measured in state championships. Allen said the pressure to follow back-to-back state titles is real.

“Everyone feels it,” she said. “There is a lot of pressure. But I’m not too worried about it.”

When Mead and Mt. Spokane met earlier this season, the Wildcats were coming off a COVID outbreak and hadn’t practiced together for several days. Allen wants another crack at her friendly rivals.

“I bet we’ll play them in the finals or something like that,” she said. “I like – I want to. I just want another chance. I’m excited to play them again.”

“It’s obviously a game that these (two teams) look forward to every season,” Mt. Spokane coach Laurie Quigley said. “It’s gone five (sets) the last two years. I think we always give each other our best game. And it’s always a really great match for both of us.”

Quigley didn’t want to get ahead of herself, though.

“We’re trying to just focus on (first-round opponent) Hermiston right now because we want to win the two that matter before we can potentially play (Mead) again.”

Allen was part of the state title teams her first two seasons while her sister, Tia, was earning state player of the year honors. With a bit of a younger squad now, Teila is Quigley’s leader – and forging her own legacy.

“The kids look up to her every day,” Quigley said. “They just want to do anything that she does.

“She’s just gonna come in and play as hard as she can and she’s very much a lead-by-example kid.”

“I definitely feel at least a bit old,” Allen said. “I walk in the gym, and it’s like, I’m one of the oldest people there. So it’s like a sense of responsibility.

“I’m leading this team for myself. I want to get a state title. But it’s also like, I feel responsible for the younger girls.”

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