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A year ago the Pirates were not sure if they could reign supreme among the 2A ranks in volleyball.

They had finished second in the district after some hard-fought battles with rival Bear Lake. West Side head coach MeLinda Royer believed in her squad, and that carried over as the Pirates took the 2020 title in thrilling five-set fashion against that same Bear Lake team that had beaten them for the district title.

Fast forward a year and the 2021 Pirates were a team with plenty of confidence this time around. They began the season taking a couple of losses against some stiff competition at a Wyoming tournament, but then went on a tear. They never flinched on their way to repeating as 2A state champions this past Saturday.

“Last season we were hopeful we could make it to state and then wanted to win one match and then another,” Royer said. “This year the girls had their minds set on a championship. They were more confident in their abilities. I think that was from the experience they had last year.”

There was no drama this time around. Sure, the Pirates (35-4) dropped a set here and there at Lakeland High School, site of the 2A state tournament this past weekend in northern Idaho, but were never really threatened. Top-seeded West Side played true to their seeding and won the fifth state title in the sport.

“It was a magical season for sure,” Royer said.

In the championship match against second-seeded Melba on Saturday, the Pirates seemed to get stronger as it progressed. West Side won in three — much different than a year ago when it went five — 25-23, 25-16, 25-11. The Pirates were not going to be denied the repeat.

“I guess we waited until the championship game to really bring what we had,” Royer said with a laugh. “It was fun.”

In the finale, it all began at the service line. West Side served at a 98.6 percent clip. Obviously, that is nearly perfect.

“Our goal this season was to serve tougher and more consistently,” Royer said. “Most of the year we hung around 90 percent, but at the state tournament we were above 95 percent. We made great strides in that area.”

The Pirates finished with 41 kills, 68 digs and seven blocks as a team against the Mustangs. Junior Abby Fuller led the team with 18 kills, while senior Jesse Mariscal recorded 15 kills. Senior libero Madalyn Barzee had a team-best 16 digs, while Fuller came up with 11 to post a double-double. Junior Samantha Roberts had 10 digs. Junior setter Laney Beckstead had “an amazing game,” according to the coach, with 31 assists and 10 digs. Junior Natalie Lemon had four blocks.

“Laney Beckstead has been phenomenal this year,” Royer said. “She is a great setter, but her defense is unmatched. She is an amazing defensive player.”

The coach also called the play this season out Mariscal, an outside hitter, phenomenal. She also praised Barzee, a three-year starter, for her passing abilities throughout 2021.

Having lost two middle blockers to graduation after 2020, sophomore Sara Mariscal, Lemon and senior Brittyn Jensen were tasked with stepping into those spots. They shared time.

“I could always count on Brittyn to be pull through at clutch times,” Royer said. “Natalie Lemon and Sara didn’t play varsity at all last year. Sara was the star at the district tournament and then Natalie had an amazing state tournament with many solo blocks.”

Fuller, an outside hitter, was the Pirates “silent weapon.” The two-year starter is quiet and humble, according to Royer.

“Abby is an all-around player, strong on the service line, strong hitting, places the ball well, her serve-receive is spot on,” Royer said. “She is just fabulous.”

Junior Paige Comeau had been a setter, but played opposite side hitter this season most of the time. The coach called her a “key element” in helping the team have success.

West Side started the state tournament by beating Declo in four sets, 25-18, 25-27, 25-13, 25-13. The Pirates dropped the first set in the second round to Cole Valley, but like they would time and again, responded with a vengeance and won in four, 18-25, 25-17, 25-12, 25-17. In the semifinals, West Side once again opened with a setback, but then rolled against Nampa Christian, 19-25, 25-15, 25-13, 25-19.

“I think our most challenging match was Nampa Christian,” Royer said. “They play a really strong middle hitter game, and we hadn’t played many teams this year that play that type of a game. ... We made a few adjustments, and the girls picked it up and were fine.”

While district rivals Malad and Bear Lake pushed them — their last loss of the season coming against the Dragons near the end of the regular season — the Pirates were prepared for state. Royer called the district tournament nerve wracking, compared to state.

“Our district is good,” Royer said.

West Side was well prepared from a season of playing good competition.

“They were pretty confident the whole season,” Royer said. “What really helped us is we were able to attend that Cokeville (Wyoming) tournament. The competition at that tournament was unreal. We started the season off with some rough, tough teams. Two of our losses came there — one in the championship — but beat some amazing teams. They were really challenged early on in the season. When they saw they could compete, it built their confidence.”

The coach said being able to play some stiff competition early on was a big difference from last season. West Side went on to win the West Jefferson tournament and the Malad tournament later in the season.

Having won two straight titles, the Pirates will have plenty of experience returning for 2022. Could they make another run?

“We definitely have a good corps coming back; it’s exciting,” Royer said. “My son came up and said, ‘let’s go for three.’ I said, ‘let me enjoy this one.’ We will definitely try our best to go for it again next year.”

The Pirates were welcomed back to Dayton and Franklin County in style. An escort brought the team bus to the school, and Stokes Market has a sign up congratulating the team. An assembly was held as well, filling the gym

“We have an amazing community that is so supportive,” Royer said.

Shawn Harrison is the sports editor at The Herald Journal. He can be reached at sharrison@hjnews.com or 435-792-7233.

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