Stanwood volleyball, 11.9.21

Scenes from Stanwood's 3-0 win over Shorewood on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, in the opening round of the district tournament.

The Spartans entered last week nursing a two-game skid and facing some questions heading into the district tournament.

They ended the week with a second-place finish at districts and a ticket to the state tournament.

“We were definitely down on ourselves heading into the week,” senior Oliva Rueckert said. “We just weren't in the right mindset.”

So, before the district tournament, the team met and hit the reset button, Rueckert said.

“We just needed to play our game,” she said.

Stanwood opened the district tournament with a convincing 3-0 home win over Shorewood on Nov. 9, which set up a showdown Nov. 11 with rival Arlington — and a rematch of the epic five-set match the Spartans won on Oct. 21.

The sequel proved just as riveting.

“The intensity was at such a high level again,” head coach Megan Amundson said. “I feel both teams were playing at a high level. It was back and forth the whole time.”

The No. 4-seeded Spartans won 17-25, 25-19, 25-23, 15-25, 15-10 and were responsible for their rivals’ only league losses this season. The Eagles, who beat Everett on Saturday to also advance to the state tournament, earned 3-0 wins in every league match this season — except against Stanwood.

The battle opened with Stanwood regrouping after a first-set loss that saw Arlington close on a 19-5 to take the second set with relative ease.

The third set saw 11 ties and 10 lead changes before kills from Baylor Hezel and Rueckert handed the Spartans a 2-1 lead.

After the Eagles rolled to a fourth-set victory, the Spartans pulled away late with seven of the final nine points to get the win.

“They really bring up our level of play,” Rueckert said of the matches against Arlington. “We just go all out. We should do that every game.”

Stanwood was led by Jolene Henrikson (3 aces), Barrett Anderson (4 aces, 10 kills, 2 blocks, 8 digs), Mallory Duffy (2 kills, 1 block), Baylor Hezel (3 aces, 9 kills, 1 block, 7 digs), Rueckert (15 kills, 1 block, 3 digs), Karli Niegemann (2 aces, 14 digs), Cailyn Conley (2 kills, 2 blocks), Mischa Kessler (9 assists, 4 digs) and Grace Henken (2 aces, 23 assists, 10 digs).

“The girls stepped up,” Amundson said. “They understand everything now is do or die.”

In addition to the state berth — the Spartans’ first since 2018 — the victory advanced Stanwood into the district championship match Saturday against Ferndale, which the Golden Eagles won 3-0 (25-17, 25-12, 25-19).

“There was a lot of emotion in that Arlington match, and we weren’t able to recreate that emotion,” Amundson said. “But at the same time Ferndale is a fantastic team.”

The Spartans were led by Anderson (5 kills, 10 digs, 1 ace), Hezel (3 kills, 1 dig, 1 ace), Rueckert (6 kills, 3 digs), Niegemann (6 digs), Conley (5 kills), Kessler (7 assists) and Henken (2 aces, 10 assists, 2 digs).

Even though it was a loss, Amundson said the Spartans had plenty of highlights, including hitting in the middle from Conley and Rueckert.

“Liv Rueckert came alive for us in these district matches,” Amundson said. “She was a force. Her hitting efficiency was fantastic.”

Rueckert deflected the praise and said the success stems from a strengthening team chemistry.

“Our connections are getting better,” she said, adding that the team has a variety of weapons that “allow us more opportunities to attack the net.”

Next, the Spartans face Auburn Riverside at 11:45 a.m. Thursday in the opening round of the double-elimination 3A state tourney at the Yakima Valley SunDome.

“Overall, I think we’re in a good spot,” Amundson said. “Any team that’s going to this tournament is a good team. This group understands everyone is fighting for everything. These girls can really buy into that and create their own energy now.”

Contact reporter Evan Caldwell at ecaldwell@scnews.com and follow him on Twitter @Evan_SCN for updates throughout the week and on Instagram @evancaldwell.scn for more photos.

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