After a sluggish start last Saturday, Columbia High's varsity volleyball team picked up its tempo and played what Bruins Coach Terry Thomas called its "best volleyball so far" in advancing to the finals of the Trout Lake Invitational Tournament.
The Bruins lost to the host Mustangs in the championship match, slugging it out before falling, 27-25, in the first set, then dropping the second, 25-14.
"I would have liked to have won that final match," Thomas said. "But there still were a lot of positives that came out of that experience."
For starters, CHS got its first two wins of the season, defeating Sunnyside Christian (33-31, 26-24) in the first round of match play and Lyle (25-22, 23-25, 15-10) in a tournament semifinal.
Thomas attributed the Bruins' success in those matches, in part, to improved defensive play.
"We were moving more collectively on defense instead of individually, and we weren't leaving so many holes open on the floor," he noted. "A defensive intensity is starting emerge with this team, and you saw in the number of times they went to the floor Saturday to keep the ball alive."
Bruins hitters also started to find a rhythm, thanks to better passes to senior setter Shelly Putnam.
"We cut our unforced errors way down," Thomas said. "We were calming down on our passes so that we were able to actually run an offense. The other thing that I found encouraging was that we came back a bunch of times to pull out wins. I'm excited about the way we played and I hope the girls are too."
At Woodland 3, Columbia High 0 --
The defending Trico Division champions capitalized on the Bruins' shaky serve receive and passing to record a sweep of last Thursday's Trico varsity match.
The Beavers (2-0, 6-0) served 17 aces during their 25-8, 25-13 and 25-11 victories over the Bruins (0-2, 0-6), who had a hard time maintaining possession and generating an offensive counterattack.
Columbia trailed all the way in the first set as Woodland strung together six points in a row for an 8-1 lead.
The Bruins got within six points on two occasions but couldn't get any closer as the Beavers went on another six-point run to open a 12-point spread at 16-4.
In the second set, Columbia took a brief 2-1 lead in the early going. It pulled within two points three times Woodland, at 9-7, 10-8 and 11-9, but Woodland refused to cede the momentum.
The third set started much like the first, with the Beavers breaking a 1-1 tie with six consecutive points. The Bruins narrowed the gap to 10-7 before a service error -- one of their four in the set -- gave the ball back.
Woodland closed the match out, scoring 15 of the final 19 points.
For Columbia, junior Whitney Shelley had a team-high three kills and the only serving ace., while senior Jessica Mosbrucker finished with 2 blocks -- one scoring -- and a scoring tip.
Junior Corrine Blankenship collected 1 kill and made 2 saves, and senior Emily Swick had 2 digs.
Woodland also prevailed in junior varsity action, winning in straight sets.
La Center 3, at Columbia High 0 --
The Wildcats spoiled the Bruins' home opener, winning in straight sets, 25-17, 25-17, 25-16, on the court in Miller Memorial Gym Sept. 16.
Columbia fell behind 3-0 in the first set and trailed by as many as eight points, but used a three-point run midway to pull within 15-11.
Senior Emily Swick served consecutive aces to spark another CHS rally that cut La Center's lead to 22-17 in the late going.
La Center had just one ace in the first set; it came on set point. However, the Wildcats ripped 7 kills for points.
Whitney Shelley had 4 kills and a block for the Bruins, who got 2 kills and a block from senior Shelly Putnam.
The Bruins took their first lead of the night at 3-2 in the opening minutes of the second set, after spotting the Wildcats a 2-0 edge.
Eleven ties and 11 lead changes later, La Center put the set away with a kill and a service ace on set point.
Columbia High led briefly at 2-1 in the third set, but an ensuing three-point swing put La Center in control. At one point, the Wildcats led 16-8.
But the Bruins, sparked by the play of Putnam and classmates Jessica Mosbrucker and Krista Bakke, rallied for five straight points that sliced the margin to 16-13.
La Center countered with a three-point spree that CHS then matched to make it 19-16. That was the Bruins last hurrah, however, as the Wildcats scored the final six points to claim the sweep.
Columbia contributed to its undoing by making 46 unforced errors.
In the preliminary, Columbia High's jayvee won in straight sets to improve to 2-0.