Nov. 3—Clarkston was one win away from the Washington Class 2A state volleyball tournament last season, losing 3-1 to Ephrata on Nov. 12, 2022. The Bantams are now in the same situation after winning 3-0 against the East Valley Knights on Thursday in Clarkston. The scoreline read 25-12, 25-15, 25-20.
Clarkston will play Shadle Park at 2 p.m. Saturday at Rogers High School in Spokane. If the Bantams win, they'll be in the state tournament.
"I think we need to find the energy that we had last year," Clarkston coach Marie Huffman said. "And the determination of 'We can do it and we can compete with them.' And have the mindset that we need to shut down (senior middle blocker Abbey Flerchinger)."
Before Clarkston shifted its focus to Shadle Park, it had to go through a Knights team that had some fight in it. Here's how Thursday's match went down:
Neither team was at its 'A game' through the first set. Of the first 15 scores, eight of them were either receiving or hitting errors. The Bantams were able to clean up their play while East Valley was still working out the kinks. Clarkston went on to take the first set by 13 points for a 1-0 match lead.
The turning point for the Bantams in the first set, and really the match, was the first of four blocks on the night by sophomore middle blocker Jordan Cassetto.
The play put Clarkston up by three points and there was a noticeable step up in motivation and emotion from the home team.
"It is always super great to be pumped up and have more energy than the other team," Cassetto said. "I think that helped us, as well. ... I was so excited. That was probably my best block of the season."
East Valley went on a run early in the second set and came within one point of the Bantams. Aside from that, Clarkston maintained a comfortable lead for most of the set.
Even with the lack of excitement on the scoreboard, there was plenty to be found on the court. Maybe the most technically sound point of the match for both teams happened late in the second set.
Both the Bantams and the Knights set up several textbook attacks in a back-and-forth rally. Senior setter Olivia Gustafson (wearing #16 instead of her usual #5 due to a blood stain on her jersey during pregame), got the kill after East Valley setter Shelby Swanson failed to receive. Gustafson finished with 11 kills for the match.
Clarkston finished out the set to go up 2-0 with very little pushback, but that point showed what both teams were capable of when playing at their best.
Anything you can do
By the third set, both teams had limited mistakes. There were six ties and the Bantams struggled to maintain a multi-point lead.
The Knights weren't able to stop the deficit from increasing, but late in the set both teams started to employ the same strategy: hit the ball really hard.
Both Clarkston and East Valley went full-tilt on kill attempts and the final few points were either successful kills, or just barely out of bounds. Gustafson, Cassetto, junior outside hitter Ella Leavitt and senior outside hitter/setter Emma McManigle all recorded kills during the third set and the Bantams closed out the Knights for the 3-0 match win.
The Bantams have been close to a state tournament berth several times in the class of 2024's tenure. They will need to get the win on Saturday to make sure history doesn't repeat itself.
Clarkston went 0-2 against the Highlanders during the regular season, but showed it can compete with them. Cassetto will be tasked with matching up with Shadle Park's star middle blocker Flerchinger. If Cassetto and the rest of the Bantams' front line can match the performance they had on Thursday, another competitive match is a very real possibility.
Senior libero Leah Copeland had 18 digs for Clarkston. Junior setter Hayley Barnea helped facilitate the front line's stellar night with 17 assists. Gustafson also added three aces.
The Bantams will play Shadle Park in a Washington Class 2A Division 8 district tournament semifinal at 2 p.m. Saturday at Rogers High School in Spokane.
Kowatsch can be contacted at 208-848-2268, email@example.com or on Twitter @Teren_Kowatsch.