YAKIMA – The defining moment of the Sunnyside Christian volleyball team’s run this year may have been in the final match at the SunDome. Down by two sets and trailing 24-18 in the third, senior Mirella Jimenez was accidentally elbowed in the nose, causing a nosebleed.
Rather than sit out the rest of the match, Jimenez begged to be let back onto the court so she could help her team claw back toward a victory.
While the effort did not succeed, Lady Knights Coach Stephanie Dalrymple said it exemplified the team’s attitude this year.
“They never stopped fighting,” she said. “If they were down in a match, they said, ‘we have to get the ball back,’ they just kept pushing points.”
That attitude led to the Lady Knights winning their two opening matches at the WIAA Class 1B State Volleyball Tournament, defeating Neah Bay in three sets last Friday morning and achieving victory over Mount Vernon Christian in five hard-fought sets last Friday night.
“They all played really well,” Dalrymple said of her team, which eventually placed fourth, the highest ever finish at State by Sunnyside Christian. She credited the determination of the Lady Knights for Friday night’s victory.
“We have to want it more than they do,” she said. “Never giving up, never letting the scoreboard affect the way we played. Our goal was to play mentally strong and I think we did that.”
The quarter-final match against Mount Vernon Christian was a long battle for both teams, marked by frequent ties. The Hurricanes opened with a 25-18 win over the Lady Knights, who promptly returned the favor, tying up the match with a 25-17 win.
The third set went to the ‘Canes, 25-21. Facing their first loss of the tourney, the Lady Knights dug deep for a 25-19 win to tie up the match at two sets apiece.
The fifth set was tight, at one point tied 6-6 before Sunnyside Christian went on a run and secured the win, 15-9.
“Volleyball is a game of mistakes,” said Dalrymple. “You have to work really hard not to let the mistakes get to you. I think we’ve done that this year. We’re picking ourselves up and playing and not dwelling on the mistakes.”
The only easy match of the tourney for the Lady Knights was the opener against Neah Bay, and it wasn’t actually easy. Sunnyside Christian got off to a slow start, winning 25-20 in the first set after several miscues.
The second set against the Red Devils started with a solid 10-0 run with senior Annie Brouwer at the service line. Brouwer finished the tourney 64-for-67 from the service line.
Neah Bay couldn’t find its rhythm after that and lost the set, 25-9. Neah Bay led early in the final set, but the Lady Knights went on another 10-point run, and eventually won the set 25-11.
The match was marked by unlikely returns, with Brouwer digging up the ball in front of the net with a full slide at one point in the second set. SCHS senior Kate Newhouse said her team had a lot of “crazy saves” during the tournament.
“Sometimes we’d see it fall and think that was it, but then someone would just get to it,” Newhouse said. “We would keep it alive somehow.”
Brouwer said the saves kept the team going during tough matches.
“No matter how far shanked it is, somebody is going to go after it,” she said. “We always knew we were still in it.”
Guaranteed a top-four finish after Friday’s two wins, the Lady Knights in the semi-final match took on Almira Coulee Hartline. Sunnyside Christian has a history with the Warriors: last year Almira Coulee Hartline defeated the Lady Knights in the first round of the State tourney.
This year the Lady Knights took the lead with a 25-21 first set victory, but despite fighting back from deficits, ended up dropping the next three sets, 25-18, 25-21, 25-23.
“We played some really good volleyball all weekend long against tough competition we don’t usually see in our regular season,” said Dalrymple.
In the final match against the Christian Faith Eagles, the Lady Knights started slow, losing the opening set 25-11.
The second set was a barn-burner, with the teams trading leads throughout. Sunnyside Christian had the lead several times, including taking the set to game point. But the Eagles also didn’t give up, and the final score went their way, 29-27.
The Lady Knights were plagued with exhaustion in the final set, missing several serves. Despite miscues, the Sunnyside girls continued to fight, even at game point. Jimenez returned to the court with a hastily bandaged nose to fight for one last point for her team.
Sunnyside Christian eventually lost 25-19 after stoppage time to clean up blood from the arena floor.
“I had so much fun even though we lost,” said Brouwer of the final match. “I knew going in it was going to be a fight.”
Brouwer and Newhouse said the team set a goal last August of finishing in the top-four at State. Both were proud and humbled to have accomplished the goal.
“Not to be prideful, but I think we deserved it,” said Brouwer.
Dalrymple said she’s happy with how the season went.
“It would have been wonderful to be in that championship game and place in the top two,” she said. “But we set a goal to finish in the top four this season, and we stepped up.”
The Lady Knights are losing four seniors from the squad. Graduating this year are Brouwer, Jimenez, Newhouse and Shaylon Struikmans. Dalrymple said all contributed a lot to the team.
“Losing those four seniors is going to be tough, but we’ll continue to build the program and be successful every season,” she said. “We have some girls who played a lot this year that I’m looking at to step up and be leaders next year.”
In addition to her solid performance at the service line, Brouwer tallied 34 kills, 62 perfect passes and 52 digs over the course of the four tournament matches.
Newhouse was 48-for-51 from the service line with 38 kills, 23 perfect passes and 89 digs.
Jimenez, the libero, racked up 34 perfect passes and 34 digs in the tourney.
Struikmans was perfect from the service line, going 44-for-44. She also contributed 29 perfect passes and 24 digs.
Katelyn Banks tallied 28 kills, 23 perfect passes and 14 blocks. She also had 41 digs.
Aydan Harrington was in fine form as Sunnyside Christian’s setter, racking up 117 assists and digging up the ball 46 times.
Kristen Broersma also racked up some solid stats, going 63-for-66 from the service line with 20 kills and 18 digs.
Brouwer was also voted the player of the year by the coaches in the Greater Columbia Gorge League.