Mercer Island volleyball wins district title

The undefeated Islander volleyball team has had just one problem this season, the third game. Time after time Mercer Island takes a 2-0 lead only to let up and lose the third game. They always win the fourth game but that third one has become superstitious for the team.

The Islanders broke that dubious run Saturday evening as they crushed Eastside Catholic 3-0 to win the district title at West Seattle High School.

"We're really superstitious," said Islander Shayda Sanii. "But this was the perfect way to end it and get on to state."

The Islanders began the match by exerting their power. Sanii, who continuously hammered the ball during the tournament, slammed a spike into the Crusaders' hardwood, capping a 5-1 run and giving Mercer Island a 16-9 lead. A cross-court spike by senior Janelle Chow gave Mercer Island a 21-14 lead late in the contest. The Islanders finished off the first game with Sanii power, as her seventh kill of the contest gave Mercer Island a 25-15 win.

The second game would be a little closer, but with smart play the Islanders capitalized off of Eastside Catholic's mistakes.

Sanii and Chow powered the Islanders to an early 5-2 lead. Three consecutive aces by Sanii during a 7-1 run, gave Mercer Island some breathing room at 11-6. But the Crusaders would come back, eventually pushing to within two at 19-17. Smart play would be the difference as Eastside Catholic made five errors in Mercer Island's final six points. A hit by Sabrina Rasmussen, which grazed the net and then kissed the Crusaders' side of the court, was Mercer Island's final kill of the game. Overall, Eastside Catholic committed five service errors to Mercer Island's two during the second game.

"This was total sacrifice by each player to play for the team," said Mercer Island head coach Dino Annest. "We won the third game and I think we got rid of that jinx."

Winning that third game was not easy. The Crusaders came out determined not to be swept and took an early 5-2 lead despite two hard kills by Chow. The Islanders were flat and uncontrolled, leading to easy Crusader points.

"At first it kind of frazzled us," said Islander Chelsea Jurkovich. "But we came together in the end."

Mercer Island never fell too far behind. A 12-6 advantage was the best Eastside Catholic could do. But the Crusaders managed to stay ahead. With the score 23-18 and on the verge of losing control of the game, Mercer Island mounted its comeback. With Ally Bray serving, the Islanders played a controlled game, allowing the Crusaders to make four big mistakes. The smart play pulled the Islanders back to within two points at 24-22. A big block by Rasmussen and Chow and another Eastside Catholic error tied the game. Islander Ariel Dewey, the team's setter, served four times with no errors during the final pressure packed sequence.

"I was really really nervous," said Dewey. "I was shaking the entire time but I managed to get all of them in."

Sanii finished the match the same way it began, with a powerful spike through the Crusaders' heart to complete the improbable 26-24 comeback.

"This is the first time we have won after having a big deficit during the third game," said Bray. "We started out with a let down and ended very relaxed. It feels good to win this tournament."

With the win, Mercer Island may have overcome a few other superstitions as well. The team also went undefeated last season until they lost during the district final to Blanchet.

"I think a lot of the metro teams didn't think we could beat them," said Jurkovich. "But we stayed together as a team and fought for every point."

The victory over Eastside catholic gives the Islanders something that they have not had in years past, uninterrupted momentum heading into state.

"With how last year's district meet ended we kind of kept second guessing ourselves during state," said Sanii. "But there is a fire in everyone, even the bench this year."

The Islanders played a complete tournament during districts. Mercer Island began on Thursday at Sammamish High School following a bye through the first round after earning the No. 1 seed from KingCo. The Islanders dismantled Lakeside 3-1, with the loss coming in the third game. Mercer Island was led by Jurkovich on defense, who had 32 digs, and Dewey with 30 assists.

The Islanders beat Blanchet during the semifinals 3-1.

Mercer Island moves on as the No. 1 seed from the Sea-King district to the state meet. The state tournament will be played in Yakima at the Sun Dome on Thursday and Friday.

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