Serving and defense have carried the Carey School varsity volleyball team a long way this season, which is one reason that Panther coach Kathy Whitworth found herself positively speechless Wednesday.
Actually, Whitworth was stunned. The hard-working Carey girls, fortified by seven strong seniors, had just lost five straight games during the final day of the Northside 1A Sub-District tournament on the ISDB hardwoods in Gooding.
Second-seeded Carey (22-5) had dropped Wednesday afternoon's championship match to #1-seeded Shoshone (25-2) by scores of 25-19, 25-13, 25-18 and, after a little rest, had lost the first two games to #3-seeded Dietrich 28-26 and 25-18.
Carey, three times a winner over Dietrich this fall, was on the verge of being bumped down to third place in the Northside. Its hopes for a state tourney berth were flickering, on life support, not yet gone.
"There was nothing I could say," Whitworth recalled. "I've said it all. Just step up to the plate if you want it, I finally said. And they did."
Carey needed a little breathing room in the third game and got it when junior Serene Bingham served nine consecutive winners to start the game with a 9-0 Panther lead. Whitney Peck and Amy Olsen hit well and Carey won it 25-22.
It was Peck's turn to bewilder Dietrich with her serve in the fourth game. Peck served eight straight winners for an 8-0 Panther cushion. Jessica Royal (a team-leading 11 kills) smashed four kills in the game and Bingham came back on the court to end the 25-12 victory with five straight good serves.
Dietrich was a little stunned. The Devils may also have been a little weary, having played three straight nights and having eliminated #5-seeded Camas County of Fairfield 25-7, 25-23, 25-17 in the prior match.
Facing the big deficits the three tough Blue Devil senior hitters, Caitlin Dill, Denise Anderson and Kasi McCowan, just couldn't get untracked. The Blue Devils also knew they had lost all three of their matches to Carey this season in the fifth games, 15-1, 15-11 and 15-5.
The fifth and deciding game was tied 8-8 and Dietrich was rallying when Whitworth called time out. On the next point, Carey senior Amy Olsen blocked Dill at the net for a huge winner, and that put Serene Bingham back at the line.
Carey really enjoyed having Bingham serve Wednesday.
Bingham proceeded to serve four straight winners including two aces for a 13-8 lead. Peck (7 kills) leveled an enormous kill for a 14-9 lead. Carey won 15-9.
So the Panthers earned their second consecutive trip to the 16-team State 1A tournament Oct. 27 at Lewiston. Amy Olsen added 8 kills and Brenna Silva 8 kills to the well-balanced Panther hitting attack.
As for the Panther passing against Dietrich, it was in the capable hands of seniors RayAnne Hennefer (67-for-71 with 9 assists) and Amanda Hill (49-for-54 with 12 assists).
Thursday night at Hansen, second-place Northside Conference finisher Carey played second-place Southside Conference squad Oakley for state seeding purposes. Oakley had knocked off Raft River 25-17, 25-20, 17-25, 21-25, 15-12 Tuesday.
Also Thursday, Shoshone matched up against undefeated Southside champion Hagerman for the Fourth District championship. The biggest match at Hansen Thursday, to determine the fifth and final state qualifier from the district, matched Dietrich against Raft River.