Spikers make an impression on Prep

Michelle Miller had 11 kills and 17 digs for the Spartans. - RYAN SCHIERLING/Staff Photo
Michelle Miller had 11 kills and 17 digs for the Spartans.
— image credit: RYAN SCHIERLING/Staff Photo

Youth, and a lot of Spartan spunk wasn’t enough to best two-time defending 3A state volleyball champs Seattle Prep, but it was enough to give the Panthers a bit of a jolt Wednesday night.

Prep came out with guns blazing in the first match, running up a quick 4-0 score before Michelle Miller popped up on the left side and sent a booming kill right down the line.

Bolstered by that excitement, and maybe by the stunned looks on some of the Prep players, the Spartans evened the score at 5-5 when Christen Toepel and Hannah Stuart put up a wall in front of Prep’s Christina Payne.

The two teams traded points for the majority of the first match, until a 12-12 score became a Spartan advantage on a Panther miscue.

But a two-hit series and a Sabrina Tan kill attempt that went long would bring the points to 14 each, before a Prep service hit the net and dropped at Miller’s feet.

Down by one, Miller sent another laser down the left side of the court that was too much for Prep’s Katrina Perez to handle.

Bainbridge continued to match Prep point-for-point, up to a tie score of 23-23, before the Panthers would tally two more to end the match.

The second go-around of the evening began in much the same fashion as the first, with the young Spartans grinding out rallies and looking down the lines for kills.

Stuart smacked a ball cross-court to tie at 8-8, but her subsequent serve was wide and gave Prep the lead.

And Prep began to run with it.

Four unanswered Panther points resulted in a Bainbridge time-out. The scrappy Spartans eventually scored five more, but 13 was as many as they’d see in the second. With the score at 13-23, the Spartans took a second time-out. A carry by Bainbridge and a Prep serve deflected wide off of Samantha Nelson ended the match.

While it would have been easy for the Spartans to come out deflated after a twelve-point drubbing, they took the floor looking like icewater was pumping through their collective veins.

After a two-minute rally, an exhausted Tan got an outside hit to drop into the Prep mid-court for a 3-1 Spartan lead. Toepel whipped an ace and a Prep miscue on the next serve made for a 5-1 score.

A screaming Prep kill by Payne bounced off Miller and out, but Miller responded on the next play with a chop from mid-court that found floor on the other side of the net.

A strong Bainbridge blocking effort and another Tan kill brought the score to 8-2, when a flustered Seattle Prep team called for a time-out.

Payne came back out with a light touch over, but Spartan Sarah Braun answered with a point that was anything but soft. Alison Thies dug out a Panther kill and Bainbridge ended up with a point for the effort, as the ball sailed back over the net and dropped in front of Prep’s diving libero Naomi Iwata.

Another one-handed dig by Tan resulted in a Bainbridge point, and Miller showed her softer side by tipping one over the outstretched arms of a pair of Prep front-liners. A wide Panther return brought the score to 13-3, Bainbridge, and a befuddled Prep team called another time-out to regroup.

A foiled Miller kill brought Prep a point, but Braun responded with a blast, the set-up coming from a no-look, behind-the-head set from Miller on the left side.

At 15-6, Miller sent two kills cross-court, and Stuart banged one home after she and Toepel elevated for a series of incredible blocks.

The Spartans were on a roll, and it was beginning to look like the youngsters were going to sit down the more experienced Prep team, at least for a game or two.

But at 18-7, Prep’s Che Oh blasted a kill off of Ashley Bice, and the Panthers were back in the hunt.

Another long rally ended with a Prep point on Laura Nuyen’s spike, and a pair of aces and two kills brought the score to 18-12. The Panthers ran the score up to 18-17 with five unanswered points before the two teams began trading tallies again.

Two Spartan time-outs later, and with the score dead even at 22, Oh dropped another bomb and a Nuyen tip fell in the Spartan middle. Bainbridge got one more point on a Prep shot out of bounds, but Nuyen finished the Spartan spikers off for good with a final blow.

Despite the 3-0 loss, head coach Julie Miller was enthusiastic about her team’s effort.

“It was a really good starting point,” said Miller. “We were disappointed that we lost, of course, but we played them so much better than last year.”

“I was a little surprised that right off the bat they came out like that,” Miller said of her young team. “The girls didn’t show any fear, I’m impressed with their courage.”

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