Spikers show they're serious

The season seemed bleak for a South Kitsap High School volleyball team that was in the midst of a four-match losing streak against the top Narrows League teams back in September.

Players started to wonder how much better they would have been if Erin and Stephanie Olsen had opted to stay at SK instead of transfering to Puyallup.

Katie Ralph said she was on the verge of leaving out of frustration, but her loyalty to her coach and teammates kept her from making what would have been a big mistake.

SK coach Cathy Gangnes, who was named Narrows League Bridge Division coach of the year, would have liked having the Olsen sisters back, but she knew the reality was to make her team the best it can be with the players she has.

More importantly, the players needed to believe in themselves.

Sure enough, the Wolves climbed out of the losing streak and won their next six matches before a disheartening season-finale loss to Gig Harbor.

Despite the loss, SK still clinched first place in the NL Bridge Division and earned a spot in the Narrows League tournament semifinals Saturday at Lincoln High School.

The semifinal test came against Wilson — a team that destroyed SK in three games Sept. 13.

Wilson didn’t realize it was facing a different SK team. Neither did Olympia.

The Wolves pulled out a 15-11, 17-15 win to advance to the championship match against the Olympia Bears--another team that swept SK in the regular season.

SK could have been satisfied with second place, but it battled the state-ranked Bears to the end in a three-set thriller.

After capturing the first set 15-12 SK found itself one point away from winning the match in the second game, but Olympia squeaked out a 16-14 win and forced a third and decisive set and won 15-10.

Prior to the Wilson match, Ralph, who was named Narrows League Bridge Division MVP, said she told her teammates Wilson didn’t know what was about to hit them.

“They beat us in three and it was horrible,” Ralph said. “We’re playing so much better now. Every girl on our team is peaking right now at the right time.”

Gangnes said there was a simple reason SK defeated Wilson.

“We played against them this time,” Gangnes said. “When we played them the first time, we hadn’t gotten everything together. Katie wasn’t all there and we were still working things out.”

Gangnes and her players thought by being at least the No. 2 team out of the Narrows League would have kept SK from drawing the SPSL No. 1 or No. 2 team in pool play of the West Central District tournament Friday at Bethel Junior High School.

But in a strange twist of fate, the Wolves will play against Erin and Stephanie Olsen, who only a year ago helped the Wolves earn their first state berth.

The top two teams in each of the four pools at districts advance to tournament play Saturday at Bethel High School, with seven of the eight teams earning automatic berths to the state tournament.

SK plays SPSL No. 5 Auburn-Riverside at 2:15 p.m., and then follows with Central Kitsap at 4:45 p.m. before its 6 p.m. showdown with Puyallup.

The match against Puyallup may be strictly academic.

If SK wins its first two matches it will be assured of at least the second spot assuming Puyallup wins both its matches as well.

“We’re shooting for first or second in our pool on Friday, and then on our way to state,” Ralph said. “It’s definitely there, and it’s a goal we’re reaching for.”

Gangnes said she’s pleased with how the team has been able to get stronger as the season progresses.

“Everything has been coming together,” she said. “Everything is in place. When (the players) step out there, they do exactly what I need them to do.” Where SK lacks in size up front, they make up with speed and instinct in the back row.

Ralph has been the scoring machine for SK, but the serving and digging from Bridge Division first-team selection Jackie Binns and senior Rebekah Proctor has enabled SK to not only stay in the point but remain in the offensive.

When asked how SK is able to compete against teams that are clearly bigger and stronger up front, Gangnes had a simple reply.

“The girls play smart, they’re quick, and they have a lot of heart.”

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