Having ridden an early-season rollercoaster, the Wood River High School varsity volleyball team (9-6, 0-1 league) has been working hard to smooth out all the bumps in the road. The hard work paid off last weekend at the Hailey gym.
Wood River, not expected to pose much of a challenge in the 25th annual Wood River Invitational tournament, went 7-2 and made it all the way to the championship match of the 12-team tournament before falling to the Skyview Hawks.
Skyview, from Nampa, won its second straight Wood River tournament by a 25-21, 25-17 score over the Wolverines Saturday. Despite the final score, Wood River played relentless defense against Skyview's big guns and was right in the middle of each game.
With nine seniors, undefeated and top-ranked Skyview could improve on its third-place finish behind Bonneville and Century at last year's State 4A volleyball tournament.
"We were right there with a Skyview team that could very well be in the 4A state championship match this year," said Wood River co-coach Gary Carr. "It was a good tournament for us to finish up with a loss in the final. We improved our overall game and there were a lot of pluses."
Coming off what Carr called a "terrible match," in a three-game loss at Gooding Tuesday, the Wolverines had two good days of practice and started the two-day tournament Friday by winning its four-team pool.
Wood River defeated Weiser 25-22, 25-15 then beat Blackfoot 25-17, 25-23 and Mountain Home 25-20, 25-15. In the final preliminary match Saturday to determine placement in the championship or consolation bracket, the Wolverines handled Filer 25-18, 25-15.
Carr said, "We wanted our team to be competitive and we started off our tournament by winning eight games in a row without a loss. Hannah Richards set well and our defense picked up a lot of balls. And (5-10 sophomore) Hannah Gove was strong on the outside all weekend. She had a great tournament."
A loss to Hillcrest of Idaho Falls dropped the Wolverines into the loser bracket. Hillcrest had won the Wood River tournament four straight years from 2000-03 and was expected to return to the championship.
In the loser-out bracket, WRHS pulled it together and won three straight matches—25-15, 25-16 over Kuna, 25-23, 25-21 over Middleton and, in a rematch, 25-11, 11-25, 15-6 over a Hillcrest team weakened by the loss of its setter.
"We're pretty tall, and our height helps us with our block," said Carr. "It was nice to avenge our loss to Middleton (down there, in the season opener Aug. 30) and also to beat Hillcrest.
"At this point the girls are just learning to move through all the ups and downs of the season and playing in tournaments."
Third place went to Hillcrest's Knights and Shelley took the consolation bracket over Bishop Kelly of Boise.
Besides Richards and Gove, Wolverines playing big roles were libero Casey Vegwert, Elissa Baker, Kelsey Lidstrom, Leah McIlhenny, Jordan Scanlon, Lauren Morgenthaler and the team's All-Tournament pick, 5-6 senior outside hitter Jamie Stone.
Joining Stone on the All-Tournament Team were Kuna's 5-11 senior Stephanie Latimer and Kuna's 5-11 sophomore Hailey Curtis; Hillcrest 5-7 sophomore outside hitter Becky Burke; Shelley 6-0 senior OH Whitney Thompson; Weiser 5-7 senior OH Allie Courter; and Middleton senior middle Sarah Buhler.
The co-Most Valuable Players, both from Skyview, were 5-8 senior setter Ashley Galeai and 6-0 senior middle hitter Cammy Dranginis.
Wood River hosted Burley Tuesday in a Great Basin Conference West match and travels to defending Great Basin tournament champion Minico of Rupert Thursday. The two-day Hillcrest/Bonneville tourney opens Friday in Idaho Falls.