Into the wild

Washougal volleyball team ends 28-year playoff drought

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Kaylee Baldwin digs up the volleyball Thursday, at Washougal High School. The Panthers defeated Columbia River 25-17, 25-17, 24-26, 25-23 to finish third in league and qualify for the district tournament for the first time since 1989.

The wild things were unleashed in the Joe Brown jungle gym Oct.26.

Washougal defeated Columbia River for the second time this season in volleyball. The 25-17, 25-17, 24-26, 25-23 victory propels the Panthers into the district tournament for the first time since 1989. By beating Columbia River twice, Washougal also claims third place in league with a record of eight wins, six losses.

“A lot of big dreams just came true,” said junior setter Emily Johnson.

“I’ll remember just winning with these girls and everyone’s excitement,” added senior libero Maggie Hungerford. “It was a good Senior Night for Washougal.”

When head coach Mallorie Henker took over the program in 2014, Washougal had not won a volleyball match in three years. This is the first group of seniors she has worked with since they were freshmen. Together, they achieved something that hasn’t happened in their town in 28 years.

“When we scored that last point and we won that match, I literally cried. I thought about all the time and effort these girls have put in to make this happen,” Henker said. “It’s not about me or the coaching staff, it’s about these girls. I want them to take ownership. I want them to realize how hard they have worked and how far they have come. I am just really proud of them.”

The Panthers were flying high in the first two sets. Johnson delivered 25 assists, with three kills and three aces. Kaylee Baldwin racked up 12 kills, 21 digs and three aces. Beyonce Bea added 12 kills, 15 digs and two aces. Hungerford gathered 17 digs. Rebecca Boylan, Gracie Dolan and Rylee Erdwins all had big smashes and blocks at the net.

“I was really excited for this game,” Boylan said. “I really just wanted to put balls down on Senior Night and just win it for my team.”

Columbia River came alive in the third set, and rallied for an overtime victory. The Chieftains served four aces in a row to take a 21-19 advantage in the fourth set. Boylan and Johnson scored key points to keep Washougal within striking distance.

“Just throw your body on the floor and hope the ball goes up,” Johnson said of the effort displayed by every Panther in this match.

“It seems like the balls were hitting the floor on the other side of the net faster than I could set them,” she added. “It was so exhilarating.”

Dolan stuffed the Chieftains at the net to tie the score at 23-23. Johnson then made a nice swing over to Baldwin and hammered home a point, giving the Panthers a 24-23 lead. Washougal won the set and the match when River returned the last volley out of bounds.

“That was the perfect game. We couldn’t have asked for anything more,” Erdwins said. “It shows that we have perseverance and we believe in each other.”

These Washougal volleyball players have been connected for years by playing volleyball, basketball, softball and tennis together.

“They’re lifelong friends,” Hungerford said of her teammates. “We spend a lot of time at school together and we just have this great connection. It’s good to have all these girls by my side.”

The 2A district volleyball tournament starts today, at Tumwater High School. Washougal faces Black Hills, of Olympia, in the first round, at 6 p.m.

Although this is uncharted territory for the Panthers, they say those teams from up north are going to hear them roar.

“I just want them to keep playing hard and keep enjoying being here,” Henker said. “We are all very excited to find out how far these girls can go. When they put it together, they are a force to be reckoned with.”