After falling to Bear Lake twice at home in the district tournament, West Side head volleyball coach MeLinda Royer predicted they would see and beat the Bears at the 2A state tournament.
The Pirates did just that on Saturday evening at Buhl High School. Obviously, Saturday’s meeting was much bigger than the previous ones. It was for the state championship.
The district foes squared off for the fifth time this season and it predictably went five sets. A kill by Abigail Fuller ended the 2020 season on the highest of notes for the Pirates in a thrilling 22-25, 25-15, 20-25, 25-17, 15-12 win.
“It was an exciting, perfect weekend,” Royer said. “... It was so great. These girls have played so well together as a team. My four seniors just stepped it up and were leaders on the court, during the timeouts and just kept a positive attitude. They were amazing.”
The seniors included Sydnie Thain, TyLene Royer, Kajsia Fuller and Emma Mariscal.
During the regular season the Pirates (28-4) had split with Bear Lake, each winning on the other’s home court. West Side won a tiebreaker and hosted the double-elimination district tournament, but then lost two, hard-fought five-set matches to the Bears. However, the top two teams from the Fifth District got to advance to the eight-team field at state.
How did the Pirates overcome the mental approach having lost to Bear Lake three times this season?
“We watched a lot of film after losing those two (to Bear Lake) in the district tournament,” Royer said. “We started in a different lineup than we have in the past against them to try and match up different against their big hitter. ... The girls just set a goal. We had lost by two points (in the last meeting) and the girls just kept saying ‘working hard for two points.’ We practiced so hard last week and it paid off.”
The Bears (24-10) did take the first set and also had a 2-1 lead in the match. The Pirates never panicked even when they trailed in the third set 9-1.
“We played lights out in the second set,” Royer said. “We didn’t win the third, but the girls overcame the early deficit and rallied to make it close. They started playing amazing in the fourth.”
It came down to the fifth set.
“I knew if we could get the first point and start off strong, we would be OK,” Royer said.
The coach was right. West Side jumped out to a 4-0 lead and never looked back in winning the school’s fourth state title in volleyball — the first since 2011.
“The girls played aggressive,” Royer said. “... At the end we were receiving the serve, and the girls love to win on a first ball kill. They call it an FBK.”
Abigail Fuller received the serve and passed to Laney Beckstead, who set it back to Fuller, who hit one off the block for the final point.
“Going into the state tournament, they probably wouldn’t have told you they wanted to play Bear Lake,” Royer said. “That’s a physical and mental battle. They had played well in the games they lost, but came up short. Reflecting on it now, they all will tell you the victory was so much sweeter that it was Bear Lake. Bear Lake is an excellent team.”
Against Bear Lake, the Pirates passed at a 2.0 and served at 92.5 percent. Jessica Mariscal had a season-high 19 kills, while Sydnie Thain had 11. Besides the final kill, Abigail Fuller led the team with 26 digs, while Madalyn Barzee added 23.
To get to the championship, West Side had to start with Valley — the Fourth District champion — in the first round and easily won in straight sets, 25-14, 25-14, 25-8. None of the current Pirates had played in a state tournament as the last time West Side qualified was in 2017 when the current seniors were freshmen and none made the trip.
“The girls showed up,” Royer said. “... And they had no experience at state. They were newbies, but handled the stress and pressure well. They dominated against Valley, just played really well. That boosted their self esteem a little bit”
West Side had 12 aces against Valley with Laney Beckstead having four. Barzee led the team with 10 digs. Kajsia Fuller had nine kills, while Emma Mariscal added eight finishers.
In the semifinals, the Pirates faced a very tough Melba team. The Mustangs were the Third District champs. West Side dropped the first set, but quickly rebounded for a 23-25, 25-19, 25-18, 25-21 victory.
“Melba was an amazing team, they really were,” Royer said. “They served harder than any team we played all year. They had some girls that could really hit the ball. We just made an adjustment again after losing the first game and got our block lined up. It worked great the rest of the match. We got some big blocks to start the second and third games. My girls played the best game they have ever played as far as cutting down errors and playing as a team. Melba was so good. It was one of those moments where after we won that match that we said, ‘we are doing this, we can beat Bear Lake.’”
Kajsia Fuller was matched by Jessica Mariscal in kills against Melba with seven each. Barzee had 15 digs.
The coach credited the win against Melba for giving her team an extra boost for the championship match. However, way back in the summer she felt like this Pirate team could be special as it had five hitters who had to be accounted for.
West Side won the Malad tournament, the West Jefferson tournament and finished off the season with a state title.
“This was a very special team,” said Royer who won a state championship as a player at Bear Lake in 1997. “They are just great girls that do well in the classroom too. It’s sad the season is over. We have two sets of sisters and then to have my daughter on the team, it was just special. And we did not have one ounce of girl drama. They are just excellent human beings.”
Preston was also playing at the state tournament last weekend and had a tall order in the 4A classification held at Kimberly High School. The Indians began with eventual state champion Lakeland, which did not drop a set on its run to the title. Lakeland, which has a 6-foot-5 opposite side hitter who has committed to Washington State, beat Middleton in the final 25-18, 26-24, 25-23.
Preston lost to Lakeland 25-19, 25-19, 25-16 on Friday in the first round. The Indians bounced back to beat Nampa 25-20, 25-19, 23-25, 25- 22 to stay alive. However, they fell in the consolation championship to Twin Falls, 25-20, 16-25, 25-12, 25-21.