A 3-1 Trico league victory over Castle Rock here last Thursday earned Columbia High's volleyball team CHS' first District 4 Tournament berth since 1996.
The Bruins (3-9 in Trico, 5-10 overall) won two of their last three matches to claim the league's fourth and final spot in the eight-team, double-elimination tournament that gets underway Saturday at 11 a.m., in Montesano.
The top three teams from district will advance to the 2A state tournament on Nov. 9-10, in the Yakima SunDome.
Columbia opens district play at 12:15 against Rochester, the top seed and champion of the Evergreen League, in the Montesano High School gym.
The Bruins and the Warriors met once this season, on Oct. 20 during a tournament in La Center. But, said Bruins Coach Amy Kasenga, there was little Rochester could learn about CHS from such limited exposure.
"They didn't really see what we have," noted the second-year head coach. "We weren't at full strength because both Mallory (Holtman) and Kelsey (Owen) were gone."
But that was then, this is now.
District is a different level of volleyball than what CHS was used to in the regular season. The sets are shorter (2 out of 3 as opposed to 3 out of 5) and errors become magnified and harder to overcome as a consequence.
Kasenga is optimistic about CHS' chances, however.
She said the Bruins can be successful at district, but they'll have to be on top of their game, defensively, offensively and mentally.
"Our defense has been our strength all season. And our offense has gotten better of late. The thing we want to do is build on that, attack more and keep our focus."
At Columbia 3, Castle Rock 1 --
The Bruins concluded their league schedule with a four-set victory over the Rockets.
Columbia cruised to 15-4, 15-1 wins in the first two sets and appeared to be on its way to a sweep. But Castle Rock said, not so fast.
The Rockets, facing a lineup of mostly CHS reserves, went on the offensive and built a 13-2 bulge.
But Kasenga didn't give up on her team, or the set. Instead she reinserted her starters, who began to chip away at the Rock.
Point by point the Bruins rallied to within 13-8. But that was it for CHS as the Rockets served out a 15-8 win that forced a fourth set.
Castle Rock took an early 4-2 lead in the fourth, but eventually gave way to CHS, which went on top 7-5. Still, the Rockets hung in, forging an 8-8 tie moments later.
That was their final charge, however, as the Bruins started to distance themselves from the Rockets.
By the time junior Crystal Blankenship served two aces for a 12-9 edge, momentum clearly was on CHS' side.
In the final issue, the Rockets' bid to extend the match to a fifth set failed and the Bruins prevailed 15-10.
"We were relaxed the entire evening. After the first set the girls realized our goal (of qualifying for district) was attainable," Kasenga said. "The question was, could we maintain our focus and have fun? The answer was yes."
Woodland 3, at Columbia 0 --
CHS fell to league champion Woodland for the third time Oct. 23, but this time in straight sets, 15-11, 15-1, 15-3.
In two previous meetings, the Bruins were able to take one set from the Beavers. Third time out it appeared CHS might just win at least one again.
The Bruins got off to a 9-2 start, but the Beavers worked their way back into the set with deft serving and a hard-hitting attack.
"They started hitting some balls and we couldn't adjust. Some of them were good hits we couldn't get to," Kasenga noted. "And some were just hard hits that made passing tough."
In the second and third sets, the Beavers scored points in bunches and left the Bruins with few scoring opportunities.