Shawn Wilson admits that his Mead volleyball team has encountered a few bumps on the road toward a state title repeat, but what’s most important is finding the fast lane this week.
The second-seeded Panthers (15-1) are just four wins away from claiming their second consecutive State 3A title, a quest that begins Thursday at the Yakima Valley SunDome.
“We started off the year with a tournament in Arizona where we played some really tough teams and struggled,” Wilson said. “But it wasn’t because we played bad, it was because the level of competition was so high. So that has pushed our girls to play at a higher and higher level.
“I almost would rather have a season with a little struggle than just walking through it, because we are better because of those setbacks.”
Mead breezed through Greater Spokane League play before being upended by rival Mt. Spokane at home on Oct. 27. Paced by senior setter Leilani Ama’s 37 assists and five kills, the Wildcats – who earned the No. 4 seed to state – handed the Panthers a test. Senior middle hitter Danikah Johnson said as hard as the loss was, the team’s response was what stands out most.
“Just coming back from that kind of tough loss has really helped motivate us to pay our best and play consistent,” Johnson said. “It was a tough loss, but I feel like it has really helped us get to where we are now.”
Both Mead and Mt. Spokane have first-round byes in the tournament. The Panthers will play the winner of Monroe/Kelso match, while the Wildcats (15-1) will face either Holy Names or Seattle Prep. Top-seeded Lakeside is on Mt. Spokane’s side of the bracket, while Mead’s most likely quarterfinal matchup would be against third-seeded Peninsula.
“You’re always keeping an eye on the other side of the state and this year Lakeside is tough, Bellevue and Peninsula are tough,” Wilson said. “And it’s hard because those teams usually come over and play in the Crossover Classic so we get to see them, but that didn’t happen this year. So there’s a lot of unknown, which is both exciting and not.”
The Panthers are seeking the ninth state championship in school history, a legacy Johnson said means a lot to the current batch of players.
“It’s really important to us to add to the legacy and play our best,” Johnson said. “There’s a little pressure, because there are a lot of teams that have won titles and we want to add to that, but we are going to use that pressure to our advantage and push us to a repeat.”
Mead or Mt. Spokane have won every 3A title since 2018, a streak Wilson is proud of and hopes to see continue – especially with the two teams on the opposite side of the bracket and a chance of an all-GSL title match.
“It’s a really cool thing and if we were able to meet in the championship it would be awesome,” Wilson said. “To have two teams from the same league and the last three champions, that would be great for our league and show the quality of our players.”
Tenth-seeded Gonzaga Prep (12-7) rolls into Yakima on a four-match winning streak, including dominant wins over Hanford, Chiawana and Richland to claim the district title.
The Bullpups open Friday morning against seventh-seeded Graham Kapowsin, with the winner likely advancing to face No. 2-seed North Creek in the quarterfinals. Gonzaga Prep is making its second consecutive trip to state and just its fourth in program history.
Gonzaga Prep went unbeaten against GSL 4A teams this season, with its GSL losses coming to Mt. Spokane, Ridgeline and a five-set thriller against Mead.
Pullman is the lone GSL team to advance to Yakima and will enter the SunDome as the ninth seed.
The Greyhounds (16-3) are riding an 11-match winning streak, including 10-0 in league play. Pullman will play eighth-seeded White River in its opener Saturday morning. The winner will likely get a shot at top-seeded Lynden in the quarterfinals.
The Greyhounds are seeking their first state trophy since 2011, when they took sixth.
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