Fighting for a berth in the state volleyball tournament, Oak Harbor needs to win two loser-out matches tonight (Thursday, Nov. 1) in the district tournament at Glacier Peak High School beginning at 5 p.m.
The Wildcats are playing their best right now, according to coach Kerri Molitor, as Oak Harbor split two matches in the opening round of district Tuesday, Oct. 30, at Marysville-Pilchuck High School.
The top three teams in the tournament advance to state. Regular-season division champions Stanwood (12-4) and Shorewood (13-3), who won two matches each Tuesday, play in the district title match tonight and have two of the state spots locked up.
Oak Harbor (9-9), which finished third in the North Division, faces Everett (10-6), the North's second-place team, at 5 p.m. tonight.
The winner takes on the winner of Meadowdale (11-5) and Glacier Peak (10-6) at 7 p.m. for the final state berth.
Oak Harbor and Everett split their conference matches this season, each winning at home.
The Wildcats opened district by coming back to upset the South's No. 2 team, Meadowdale, 3-2 (14-25, 25-20, 18-25, 25-17, 15-12) before falling to Stanwood 3-1 (23-25, 25-23, 21-25, 21-25).
Molitor said, "Overall, the team played the best we've seen all season. We are peaking at the right time. As we've seen all season, our offense is strong. Last night (Tuesday), we backed it up with defense."
Things began poorly for Oak Harbor, losing big in the first set to the Mavericks. Molitor said her club was nervous early and made "a ton of unforced errors." Once the Wildcats settled in, they began to take control.
One of the keys to the victory, Molitor said, was the defensive play of Hannah Salmons (24 digs) and Roshel Muzzall (34 digs).
Molitor said, "We began playing more disciplined on defense…If we can dig it up, our offense with Kayleigh Harper and Roshel Muzzall is hard to beat."
Harper blasted 24 kills and Muzzall 16 while Taylor Nienhuis dished 45 assists.
In the fifth and deciding game, Hannah Christensen came up with several key blocks.
"This forced their hitters to struggle," Molitor said, "and resulted in additional hitting errors which we capitalized on. As impressive as our hits were, defense won this game for us."
Harper also had six blocks and three aces.
Molitor called the Stanwood match a "heavyweight fight" with each team trading blows with big kills.
For the third time this season, Stanwood topped Oak Harbor, this time winning 25-23, 23-25, 25-21, 25-21. In the Spartans' nine set wins against the Wildcats this year, seven have been by four points or less.
Molitor said, "Blocking was definitely a factor in this match. Although we record only the blocks that score points, our blockers stopped a lot of balls that were then dug by Stanwood."
Both teams dug hard-hit attacks that led to long rallies, Molitor said. "It was really what volleyball was meant to be. It was so exciting. I am so proud of our team."
Harper had 30 kills, 19 digs and six blocks; Muzzall added 17 kills and 23 digs; Christensen collected three blocks; and Nienhuis had 48 assists.
Molitor said, "If we cleanup our errors a little more, we go to state."