It's not an overstatement to say Columbia High's varsity volleyball team plays its most important match of the season to date on Thursday.
That match -- the season finale for the Bruins and the Castle Rock Rockets -- will determine whether Columbia stays home or moves on to next week's SW Washington 2A District Tournament.
So far, the season series between Columbia (2-8 in league, 5-9 overall) and Castle Rock (1-10) is even at 1-1.
A Castle Rock victory on Thursday would eliminate CHS; the Rockets would have two wins over the Bruins and would get the Trico's fourth berth to district.
At district, Columbia or the Rock would play the Evergreen League's No.-1 team, possibly Forks or Rochester, in the first round of the double-elimination tournament.
Bruins Coach Amy Kasenga wasn't looking that far ahead on Tuesday.
Her sights were set on that night's home match between CHS and Woodland, the Trico League leader.
She noted: "It's not essential that we win, but I think it's important that we play well against Woodland so that we're positive and focused for Thursday night's match."
The Bruins have lost two previous matches to the Beavers. But they're the only team in the league to have won a set (two all told) from them, according to Kasenga.
"We've proven we can play with anybody in our league," she said.
Columbia made its point last Tuesday at La Center. The Bruins and the Wildcats went to the fifth set for the third time this season.
After losing the first two meetings, CHS got revenge in the third, winning the first two sets 15-8, 15-12, losing the next two 14-16, 7-15, and closing out the match 15-10.
In the second set, the Bruins had to score the 15th point twice; the floor official overruled a line judge's "in" call on the first serve.
The fifth set saw Columbia break out to a 14-2 lead, only to have La Center rally within 14-10.
"It wasn't that we were inconsistent," said Kasenga. "It was that La Center wasn't going to just let us walk away."
CHS standouts included juniors Kristin Janney (7 kills, 4 service aces, 17 blocks), Mallory Holtman (2 aces, 9 kills, 10 blocks) and Jessica Kinder (4 aces, 3 kills), and sophomore Shelly Putnam (17-17 serves, 7 blocks).