Wood River High School’s varsity volleyball team picked a great time to play some of its best volleyball of the season Monday during the first evening of the Great Basin Conference 4A tournament at Twin Falls High School.
Coach Tim Richards’ No. 3-seeded Wolverines went the distance with grueling five-game wins over No. 6 Jerome and No. 2 Canyon Ridge to clinch a spot against four-time defending champion Twin Falls in Tuesday’s GBC semi-final.
Having only played one five-game match this season, and having lost that one at Burley Oct. 8, the Wolverines (12-21) played back-to-back five-game matches on the first night of the three-day double elimination tournament for the six teams.
In each of Monday’s wins, Wood River battled from behind. The Hailey girls trailed 2-1 in games in each match and won the final two. The Wolverines beat Jerome 25-20, 26-28, 14-25, 25-21, 15-11 and upset Canyon Ridge (23-12) by scores of 25-22, 23-25, 17-25, 25-23, 15-13.
Wood River athletic director John Rade said, “The WRHS girls played some very inspiring volleyball while showing great character against Jerome and Canyon Ridge.”
The youthful Wolverines clinched a spot in the top tier of the GBC tournament and tipped off against No. 1 Twin Falls (31-6) Tuesday night in a rematch of last year’s GBC championship game won by Twin Falls. With a loss in that match, Wood River would play again Thursday at 5 p.m. with a State 4A tournament berth at stake.
Only Wood River (district champs from 2006-08) and Twin Falls (winners from 2009-12) have won the GBC title in the last seven years. The top two GBC teams qualify for the State 4A tourney Nov. 1-2 in Lewiston. Wood River will be playing for its 24th state tourney berth.
Coach Richards said about his team’s effort Monday, “The volleyball team returned back to the campus around midnight last night with one goal accomplished, that is, if we win one of the next two matches, we will go to the state championship tournament next week.
“Last night after four-and-a-half hours of play and 10 grueling games, the Lady Wolverines defeated the Jerome Tigers and Canyon Ridge Riverhawks to stake a place in the winner bracket semi-finals tonight at 6:30 p.m. in Twin Falls against the top-seeded Bruins, unbeaten in league play. The winner goes to the state tournament.
“In the first match against Jerome our team started well, with a 25-20 win, and then leading 22-17 in the second game, we lost our focus and our lead in a heartbreaker 26-28.
“Feeling the pain of that close second game loss and feeling the momentum turning, the Lady Wolverines lost the third game 14-25, and now were down with a 1-2 game deficit.
“Down 10-15 in the fourth game, with the Jerome Tigers playing to close out the match, our players came together. We became mindful, dug deep, and scored the last three points of the game to win 25-21.
“In the deciding game the teams were tied at 9-9 in the fifth game. Leaning on all we have experienced this year, the Lady Wolverines came together again and won the match 15-11 to move on to the next round of the winner's bracket.
“In this match, (senior) Mary Petzke led us with 14 kills and junior Haley Cutler contributed 12 kills. Brittney Bradley added 26 assists and 5 kills. Ciceley Peavey, our defensive wizard, had 65 digs defending our side of the court.
“Ten minutes later the second match of the winner bracket started, and it, too, was a grueling five-set match. The Wolverines held steady and again won the first game 25-22. Up 23-21 in the second game, the players were looking to go up 2-0, and yet stumbled at the end and again felt the pain of the other team's 25-23 comeback.
“This hurt and momentum was turned again and the Lady Wolverines lost the third match 25-17. Again down 1-2 in games, and with the opposing team looking to close the door, the Wolverines fought their way back from a 11-17 deficit, just gutting out points and working together, to win the fourth game 25-23.
“It came down to the fifth game. Several hundred people packed the gym. As they screamed as loud as they could, the game went back and forth. The Wolverines trailed 13-12 and dug down to the deepest depths. There was just one last burst left and we won 15-13.”
The Lady Wolverines amazingly only had 29 kills of offense in the match, Richards said. “That meant they averaged only 6 kills, 1 ace and 1 block of offense per game, having to defend for all the other points,” added the coach about his players.
Richards said, “Mary Petzke again led us with 9 kills and 3 blocks, Haley Cutler had 7 kills and Brittney Bradley had 6 kills. Haley and Brittney each had 14 assists apiece. Ciceley Peavey had 60 digs to help our outstanding defensive effort. Every player contributed and gave what they could.”
Although the Wolverines defeated Canyon Ridge three times last season en route to their 19-19 season finish and second place in the GBC tournament, Canyon Ridge had beaten the Wolverines twice this year, both times in four games.
With its loss, Canyon Ridge went to the loser bracket awaiting the winner of the Jerome-Minico elimination match Tuesday night. If Canyon Ridge defeated the Jerome-Minico winner, the Riverhawks will have stayed alive to play again Thursday against the Twin Falls-Wood River loser at 5 p.m.
Wood River’s 12th-year coach Richards (238-199) will be seeking his seventh state tournament trip. Last year the Wolverines went 0-2 at the State 4A tournament held at Skyline High School in Idaho Falls.
Best finish for Wood River in recent years was a 31-14 record and second place at state in 2003, Richards’ second season at the helm.