LACEY — Hearts around the gymnasium palpitated on every point.
Columbia River found itself in Friday's most dramatic match at the Class 3A state volleyball tournament. A spot in the semifinals on the line, River and Seattle Prep were neck and neck throughout the fifth-set tiebreaker.
But Columbia River's players kept their nerve by remembering why they play in the first place: Volleyball is fun.
"We talked about how we were laughing and singing songs earlier," senior outside hitter Morgan Bergeurd said. "We just wanted to bring that fun into the game and enjoy playing volleyball."
Columbia River won that fifth set 18-16 and will face Holy Names of Seattle in the semifinals Saturday at St. Martin's University.
The Chieftains scored four consecutive points to knot the tiebreaker at eight. Neither team pulled more than one point ahead between that point and the match's end.
"It was chaos in a good way," said outside hitter Evi Wilson, still shaking 10 minutes after the match. "I almost cried because of happiness."
Twice Columbia River dropped hard-fought sets, losing the first set 27-25 and the third set 29-27.
Twice, the Chieftains rebounded in the following set.
That resiliency was something Columbia River knew it needed after finishing a disappointing fourth in the bi-district tournament last weekend.
"We got humbled," River coach Mo Melhart said. "We told them that every team at this tournament is good, and you need to prepare for that."
The tournament, however, did not include another match between Columbia River and Prairie, which had faced off four times this season.
Playing on adjoining courts at the same time, Columbia River and Prairie's first-round matches were almost identical in pace, but not the result.
Both went five closely contested sets, but while Columbia River outlasted Ferndale 15-9 in the tiebreaker, Prairie was on the short end of a 15-9 tiebreaker against Seattle Prep.
Trailing two sets to one, Prairie faced deficits of 9-3, 16-8 and 21-15 in the fourth set. The Falcons rallied to win 25-23 and force a fifth set. Kaylee Warren had 18 kills and 8 digs, while Huong Nguyen added 12 kills for Prairie.
Prairie bounced back in the consolation quarterfinals, outlasting Ferndale in five sets. With the 25-22, 25-17, 19-25, 19-25, 15-10 triumph, the Falcons advanced to a Saturday morning match against Timberline of Lacey. The winner will play for seventh place.
Camas ran into a familiar buzzsaw.
The Papermakers lost 3-0 in the quarterfinals to Emerald Ridge, which also swept Camas last week in the bi-district playoffs.
"After seeing us last week, they knew exactly how to play us," Camas coach Julie Nidick said. "They executed it perfectly."
Lauren Harris had eight kills in a match during which Camas tested Emerald Ridge, but always seemed to be a few points behind.
Camas plays Snohomish today at 9:45 a.m. The winner will play for fifth place, which the Papermakers took last year.
Ridgefield lost two five-set heartbreakers in the 2A state tournament at Pierce College in Lakewood.
Ridgefield's comeback fell just short in a first-round loss to North Kitsap. After dropping the first two sets 25-8 and 25-19, Ridgefield won the next two 25-23. North Kitsap won the deciding fifth set 15-12.
Next came a consolation round loss to Lynden in which Ridgefield lost the fifth-set tiebreaker 15-13.
Woodland stayed alive in the consolation bracket while La Center was eliminated at the 1A state tournament in Yakima.
Woodland lost its opening-round match to Lakeside in four sets. After winning the first set 25-16, the Beavers dropped the next three 25-7, 25-21 and 25-9.
Woodland rebounded to sweep Connell (25-15, 29-27, 25-22). Madi Raymond had 20 kills in the match. The Beavers would take seventh place with two wins today, starting with an 11 a.m. game against Annie Wright of Tacoma.
La Center was on the wrong end of three close sets in its opener against Cedar Park Christian of Bothell. The Wildcats lost 25-22, 25-22, 25-23.
La Center was eliminated in three sets by Kings High of Seattle (25-20, 25-12, 25-19).