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March 1, 2024

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1A State Volleyball: La Center stays unbeaten, reaches semifinals

Wildcats win five-set thriller in quarterfinals

By , Columbian Sports Editor
Published:
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La Center libero Mia Achziger, in blue, and her Wildcats teammates celebrate a point in a Class 1A quarterfinal match against Cascade Christian on Friday, Nov. 11, 2023 at the Yakima Valley SunDome. La Center won in five sets to reach its first state semifinals since 1995.
La Center libero Mia Achziger, in blue, and her Wildcats teammates celebrate a point in a Class 1A quarterfinal match against Cascade Christian on Friday, Nov. 11, 2023 at the Yakima Valley SunDome. La Center won in five sets to reach its first state semifinals since 1995. (Micah Rice/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

YAKIMA – Having reached five of the last six, being at the 1A state volleyball tournament isn’t unusual for La Center.

But when Mia Achziger entered the Yakima Valley SunDome on Friday with her teammates, something felt special.

“The whole day has felt different,” the junior libero said. “This is my third time at state. When we walked in here, we knew we were going to be something else.”

La Center won a five-set thriller over No. 2 seed Cascade Christian in a quarterfinal clash that could have been mistaken for a state title match.

For one, it pitted two unbeaten teams. La Center, the tournament’s No. 7 seed despite a 21-0 record, faced down a team from Puyallup that lost just two sets all season.

La Center took two sets from the Cougars in roughly an hour, earning a 2-1 lead by winning the third set 25-16.

But the Cougars struck back to win the fourth set 25-16. That set up a fifth-set tiebreaker, a situation La Center found itself in just once this season.

La Center crept agonizingly close to the 15 points needed to win, leading 14-10. Cascade Christian rattled off four straight points to pull even, but the Wildcats weren’t fazed.

“We didn’t fold because we came together and decided we needed to calm it down,” Achziger said.

Billie Ross earned a kill before Aristyn Wiseman served up an ace to give La Center a 16-14 win.

That clinched La Center’s first state semifinal berth since 1995. The Wildcats will try to reach the title match for the first time since the 1994 championship team when they face No. 6 Freeman at 9 a.m. Saturday.

La Center played with a chip on its shoulder.

“We had something to prove,” Achziger said. “The seeding committee put us at seven. Before we came in, we decided we wanted to prove them wrong.”

The first salvo in proving the committee wrong came when La Center won the first set 25-23. The Wildcats rallied from 16-9 down, giving the team a shot of confidence.

“Winning the first set was amazing,” said Whitney Martell, one of three freshman who play significant roles for La Center. “We just knew that we had it. We also went through some rough times, but we pulled together.”

La Center had little trouble in its first-round match Friday morning. The Wildcats swept No. 10 seed Annie Wright of Tacoma (25-15, 25-17, 25-16), rarely trailing in the match.

King’s Way stays alive

Reaching the 1A state tournament was a big goal for King’s Way Christian.

Staying alive for the second day is just as important.

King’s Way swept Bellevue Christian (25-18, 25-16, 25-20) in a loser-out match. That booked the No. 12 Knights a spot in the seventh-place semifinal Saturday morning against No. 8 King’s or No. 16 Montesano.

That gives King’s Way one more day to salute its seven seniors. It also lets the younger players gain valuable state tournament experience.

“It’s 100 percent crucial,” King’s Way coach Brittany Fobi said. “It builds your self esteem to not go away with just losses. It was great to get a win by working hard and playing our game.”

King’s Way (15-5) is back in the state tournament after a one-year absence. The Knights reached the previous three state tournaments, placing seventh in 2019.

“It leads to next season as well,” Fobi said. “It reignites that fire of what we’ve done in the past in coming to state this year. We have seven great seniors. Next year we’re going to have a young team, so they can see what this looks like and get that experience.”

King’s Way began the tournament with a 3-0 loss to No. 5 Nooksack Valley. The Knights kept pace through the first set before falling 25-23. The Pioneers built on that momentum to take remaining sets 25-15 and 25-14.

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