The giant sports and entertainment facility named the SunDome sits on the same grounds that host the Central Washington State Fair in Yakima every September.
It’s fitting as the venue — the site of the annual season-ending 3A state volleyball tournament — turned out to be one big emotional roller coaster for the Lynnwood Royals volleyball team this year.
But that coaster ride ended on a high for the Royals as the team went 3-1 at the state tournament and claimed a third-place finish, much to the delight of the team and its supporters.
Lynnwood bounced back from a tough loss to Mead earlier in the day on Saturday and blanked the North Thurston Rams 3-0 (25-20, 25-19, 27-25) in the 3A state volleyball tournament match for third and fourth places.
Finishing third in state was the best in school history for a Lynnwood volleyball squad and the top state tournament placement for any Royals athletic program since the 2015 3A championship captured by the Mikayla Pivec-led Lynnwood girls basketball team.
“I’m so proud of these kids and their resilience and heart and grit that they showed,” Lynnwood coach Annalise Mudaliar said. “They earned that third-place trophy. I’m so proud of them.”
“We did what we wanted to do, we got a trophy. And a good trophy too,” said Lynnwood setter and co-captain Charlie Thomas.
The Royals, seeded No. 2 in the tournament, had to take down the tournament’s top-seeded squad in North Thurston to earn third place. The Rams had been 22-1 entering the contest — their only defeat coming just hours earlier in a semifinal match against Lake Washington.
Similar to Lake Thurston, Lynnwood was also faced with playing in the tournament’s 3rd/4th place match after losing in a semifinal game. The Royals were bested 3-1 (25-19, 25-17,26-28, 25-16) earlier by No.3 seed Mead to end any dreams of playing for a state title.
That Mead-Lynnwood semifinal ended at approximately 2:45 p.m. Saturday; the Royals had to quickly get a bite to eat and then return to the court a little after 3 p.m. to prepare for their match with North Thurston.
Mudaliar took note of how her squad responded to the tough semifinal loss and then be ready to take on the tourney’s top seed.
“For them to fall up short and regroup 15 minutes later and come out and win 3-0, awesome,” she said.
The sweep of North Thurston was only accomplished following a furious third-set comeback by the Royals. Trailing 19-16, Lynnwood tied the match at 21-21 after back-to-back aces by Sammy Holmer. A third ace by the junior gave the Royals a short-lived 22-21 advantage as the two teams swapped the lead four times in the set’s final minutes.
But it was a pair of kills by senior Paige Gessey that sealed the Royals’ victory. From the left side of the net, Gessey spiked kill shots to tie the match at 25-25 and then to win the match at 27-25, setting off a big team celebration.
During a season when Lynnwood compiled an overall record of 23-1, it will be that one loss to Mead in the state semifinal that many will remember. But Mudaliar won’t be fretting too much about the defeat, considering how her team responded to the challenge of facing a state volleyball powerhouse.
“They’re a great team; they’re the best team we have faced all season,” Mudaliar said of the Panthers. “They have a phenomenal middle (Ava Durgan). They are very good. And we hung with them. We took a set off of them. And even those sets we lost, those scores don’t tell the whole story. It was rally after rally; we went over two hours with them.”
“It was a tight match and the girls didn’t run away scared,” Mudaliar added. “They battled and they did everything that they could. And in the end sometimes you fall up short. And that’s OK.”
Following their win over the Royals, the Spokane-based Panthers went on to win their ninth state volleyball title Saturday night, getting past Lake Washington 3-0 (25-19, 25-23, 25-18).
Gessey, a Royals co-captain, admitted the Mead semifinal match was a challenge and that the outcome was a disappointment for the team. But the loss helped fuel the squad’s desire to win the match against North Thurston.
“That was a tough game; they were really good,” Gessey said of Mead. “We gave it our all and we just wanted to prove ourselves in the next game. And we did.”
For Gessey and the other Lynnwood seniors, Saturday’s action was the last they will see in a Royals uniform — and Gessey added that it will likely be the end of her competitive volleyball career. The senior is dropping club volleyball from her schedule in order to have surgery performed on a torn meniscus that has hobbled her for some time.
While sad to be giving up volleyball, Gessey said she is pleased at how her playing days ended with a trophy-winning team — and this team in particular.
“I’m just honestly glad I got to finish my last time playing with the girls that I love,” Gessey said. “I’ve been playing with them since like seventh grade, so it feels good to end on a good note.”
Gessey is one of seven seniors that made up half of the Royals 2023 roster: Gessey, Thomas, Hannah Johnson, Jordyn Higa, Abbie Orr, Adia Weighter and Taryn Dillon.
“They came in as freshmen and they came in determined to make a mark on the program,” Mudaliar said of her seniors. “They leave a legacy that matters. And I could not be more proud of a group of kids.”
“These seven girls — six came in as freshmen, the seventh came in as a sophomore — but they have just worked day-in and day-out as a group, on and off the court, to create something special,” Mudaliar said. “And they’ve done this thing together where they have just created a culture of, like I said, unity and togetherness.”
“They have made history at this school because of it,” Mudaliar said.
— Story and photos by Doug Petrowski
To view the entire 2023 3A state volleyball tournament bracket, visit www.wpanetwork.com/m2/tourn.php?act=vt&tid=4089.
Mead vs. Lynnwood, Nov. 18 (3A state volleyball tournament semifinal match)
Mead 3, Lynnwood 1 (25-19, 25-17, 26-28, 25-16)
Lynnwood top performers:
• Charlie Thomas, 30 assists
• Paige Gessey, 11 kills, eight digs
• Hannah Johnson, 10 kills, eight blocks
• Sammy Holmer, 10 kills, eight blocks
Records: Lynnwood 22-1 overall, Mead 20-2 overall
Lynnwood vs. North Thurston, Nov. 18 (3A state volleyball tournament 3rd/4th place match)
Lynnwood 3, North Thurston 0 (25-20, 25-19, 27-25)
Lynnwood top performers:
• Charlie Thomas, 34 assists
• Paige Gessey, 16 kills
• Sammy Holmer, 11 digs, five aces
• Hannah Johnson, five blocks
Records: Lynnwood 23-1 overall, North Thurston 22-2 overall