It was looking scary for the favored Wood River High School varsity volleyball team Tuesday night, after a fired-up Burley Bobcats squad upset #2-seeded Jerome and made it into the championship game against the #1-seeded Wolverines.
Would history repeat itself? Would Wood River settle for second place once again in the Great Basin Conference West 4A tournament, just as the Wolverines did in 2005 and 2004? Would Burley come back and win twice and take the title?
"No way!" said Wood River senior-captain Casey Vegwert afterwards, during the happy Wolverine victory celebration. "We've been waiting for this for seven years. Our main goal was to win this tournament and go to state, and now we're going down and win state too!"
They'll certainly have a chance, considering that the Wolverines of coaches Tim Richards and Gary Carr buried #3-seeded Burley 25-14, 25-13, 25-19 in Tuesday's district tournament championship match on the Hailey hardwoods. The victory qualified Wood River for the State 4A tournament Oct. 27-28 at Kimberly High School.
It was Wood River's 19th district volleyball championship, but its first since 2002 and its first in the tougher 4A classification. And the Wolverines will be going to the state volleyball tournament for the 19th time.
But first, they played a familiar foe, the Preston Indians, Thursday night at Preston in the Great Basin Conference championship match for state tournament seeding. Host Preston defeated Century of Pocatello for the Fifth District title 25-12, 26-24, 25-15, also on Tuesday night.
The Wolverines played Preston once before, in their second match of the season Sept. 1 during a Pocatello tournament, and Preston won that one 21-13, 11-21, 18-16.
Preston and Wood River have plenty of ancient and recent history.
They are traditional State 3A volleyball powers that bumped up to 4A three years ago and haven't been back to state since. Preston had eliminated Wood River from state tournament consideration the past two years in state play-in matches before the Indians were ousted themselves by Sixth District opponents.
Outcome of Thursday's Preston-Wood River match was fairly important since the loser was likely to be matched against the #2-ranked Skyview Hawks of Nampa in the first round of the State 4A meet Oct. 27.
Wood River deserves to be going to the eight-team state tourney.
With its balanced offense revved up by the wonderful passing of 6-0 senior setter Leah McIlhenny, and its relentless defense spearheaded by 5-9 sophomore libero Angela Coleman, Wood River was just too much all season for its Great Basin rivals.
The Wolverines went 9-0 in league, including this week's four-team tournament played entirely on their home court. They won eight of those matches in the three-game minimum, going to the maximum five once, at Burley Sept. 19.
After Burley surprised Jerome in five games Tuesday, Wood River calmly came out and built a 15-4 lead in the first game when senior Kelsey Lidstrom served seven consecutive winners. Junior Hannah Ward had four big kills in the first game and junior Hannah Gove added three.
The second game was closer, but McIlhenny stepped to the stripe in a 7-6 game and served seven straight winners putting Hailey in charge for good. Lidstrom, Gove and 6-3 junior Lauren Morgenthaler each had three kills. Gove served up a pair of aces.
A pair of kills by sophomore reserve Kaylee Baker sparked Wood River in the third game. Great blocking by Ward and senior co-captain Elissa Baker gave the Wolverines a 24-19 lead, and Vegwert finished the victory with a kill from McIlhenny.
Quick stats: Kills—Lidstrom 9, Gove 8, Morgenthaler 7, Ward 5 and McIlhenny 4. Assists—McIlhenny 20, Vegwert 7. Blocks for points—Lidstrom 3, Ward 3, Elissa Baker 2. Winning serves—Lidstrom 11 (2 aces), McIlhenny 10, Vegwert 6, Gove 5 (3 aces), Elissa Baker 4.
Topping Burley in kills were Nicole Tolman, Jessica Brice, Alex Haynie and Shaylyn Garn. Setter Katelin Robins had 11 assists. Burley played Century Thursday night in Preston, trying to stay alive for state.