WALLA WALLA — It took nine matches, but Wa-Hi picked up its first Mid-Columbia Conference volleyball victory under new head coach Don Hepker Thursday night.
The Blue Devils (1-9 MCC, 2-9 overall) defeated visiting Pasco (1-9 MCC) in cardiac fashion, splitting the first four matches 25-19, 16-25, 25-20, and 23-25 before crushing the Bulldogs 15-3 in the match set behind five aces from senior outside hitter Sierra Carmen.
“Huge monkey off the back,” Hepker said after the match. “The girls have been practicing really hard, and we thought it was our time. I really thought we’d win on Tuesday (against Hanford, a 3-0 loss), but they came in ready to fight today.
“Pasco beat us in Pasco in five before, so it was nice to get a little payback,” Hepker said.
The Blue Devils dominated at the net, with Torri Crawford and Madison Doepker smashing 15 and 16 kills, respectively, but mental mistakes and struggles in serve-receive were often momentum killers.
“Half of our team was sophomores,” Hepker said. “We are a young team, but you see them making less and less of those (mental) mistakes ... We see growth every day.”
Although they are young (with just two seniors and five juniors on the roster), the Blue Devils held a significant height advantage Thursday night, with eight players at 5-foot-10 or taller, including 6-2 Crawford and 6-3 Reece Carmen. Pasco’s tallest stood at 5-10.
“Offensively, when we get that set up there, this team is pretty scary,” Hepker said.
Pasco and Wa-Hi traded points to 10-all to open the first set before Wa-Hi opened a 17-10 lead on two aces from Crawford, a kill from Doepker and a kill from junior Jessie Shives. The Blue Devils rode that burst to a 25-19 victory, sealed with Crawford’s third ace of the set.
Wa-Hi held a 14-9 advantage in the second set before Pasco came screaming back with four aces on five serves from Lindsey Scott and six consecutive aces from libero Marisol Diaz to silence the raucous crowd and even the match with a 25-16 victory.
Hepker said the serve receive struggles stem partially from inexperience and partially from adjusting to new concepts he instituted this year.
“We’ve struggled on serve receive and then free-ball passing (this season),” Hepker said. “But tonight, for the most part, serve receive was really good. We put spurts together that were not quite what we wanted, but it’s getting better.
“I do things differently than what they did last year, not that one is right and one is wrong, but changing that is (difficult).”
Wa-Hi rebounded in the third. A block credited to both Doepker and Crawford capped a 10-3 opening from which Pasco never totally recovered.The Bulldogs pulled to within three as late as 23-20, but kills from Doepker and Sierra Carmen finished the 25-20 victory.
Wa-Hi had a 15-11 lead in the fourth set but couldn’t close out the scrappy Bulldogs. After leading early in the set, Pasco didn’t lead again until picking up a point to pull ahead 24-23, and forced the fifth set on an ace from setter Cameron Estes.
Sierra Carmen almost single-handedly put the Bulldogs down in the fifth, building a 10-3 Wa-Hi lead on five aces before Pasco managed a point to unseat her.
“I told them that, skill for skill, we’re right with these guys,” Hepker said. “The team that’s going to win is the team that wants it the most. They were pumped, and Sierra Carmen sparked us.
“I think we would have won anyway, but Sierra put a fire on the court. And the reason we won like we did was because of her. We needed her to serve big and she did — she stepped up.”
Crawford, the team’s other senior, closed the match with three straight kills.
“Torri (Crawford) was just solid all the way through this match,” Hepker said. “So our senior leadership really helped us out this match.”
Crawford finished with 17 digs and four aces along with her kills.
Sierra Carmen scored eight kills in addition to seven aces.
Junior Jamie Quaresma set up 25 assists and sophomore Katie Green added 18 more.
Libero Kassidy Willard picked up 17 digs.
Shives added four kills.
“We’ve got the hitters,” Hepker said. “We’ve always had the hitters, now it’s getting a little more experience in the back row, getting the pass up there, getting the set up. It’s starting to come together.”
Wa-Hi visits Chiawana Tuesday at 7 p.m.