November 24, 2008 · Updated 5:18 PM
MI undefeated, KingCo champs
By Matt Phelps
Mercer Island Reporter
With a jam-packed Newport High School gymnasium completely silent, Mercer Island junior Janelle Chow took to the air and powered her hand against the volleyball. The white leather hit a Newport player, narrowly nicking the hardwood. Despite the referee’s whistle, play continued. Uncertainty filled the air on both sides of the net.
“We just kept playing,” said Chow. “That happened a few times tonight.”
The close final play was just an example of the tension, competition level and strength of a rivalry that took to new heights Friday as Mercer Island beat Newport 3-2 to win the 3A KingCo title.
“That was as intense as I have ever experienced,” said Mercer Island volleyball coach Dino Annest, whose team completed an undefeated season losing just four games all year. “It was like [the movie] ‘Hoosiers’ for volleyball.”
The comparisons to the basketball movie were evident in the scenery. A standing-room only crowd watched with baited breath during nearly two hours of play, Newport fans on one side and the Islander faithful on the other.
But the intensity of the Knights’ support was literally overflowing onto the court.
“It took us time to get used to the crowd,” said Chow. “We didn’t want to share the title, and beating them on their own home court was better than anything else.”
But the intense environment put Mercer Island behind early as Newport jumped out to an 11-3 lead during the first game. Mercer Island never got any closer than four points, losing the game 25-16.
“We knew they would bring a big crowd,” said Islander Abby Trimble. “But we knew going in that we would win.”
The Islanders came back behind the leadership of senior setter Amanda Nield, taking a 12-5 lead. But frustration over a call led to a yellow warning card on Annest. The Islanders kept their composure on the court, eventually winning 25-20.
The third game was a test of wills as the Islanders gained a five-point lead but could not break away. Newport cut the lead to 23-21 toward the end of the game but a tip kill by Chow and an ace from Islander Liz Miller gave Mercer Island the game, 25-21, and the 2-1 lead in the match.
“It was hard for them not to be hyped with this crowd, and volleyball is a control game,” said Annest. “Newport and MI is like the Apple Cup.”
That rivalry has fueled both teams to take their games to a new level during the past decade, and Newport did it again during the fourth game, winning 25-18, as the Islanders never got closer than two points.
The fifth and deciding game did not start out in the Islanders’ favor, as Newport took a 5-3 lead. But a kill by Ally Bray returned the momentum back to Mercer Island.
“We put in all the effort this season, and we knew that we deserved to win,” said Bray. “Our fan support was big in this game. They are like the ‘seventh woman’ on the court.”
Bray came up big again with a block and a kill for consecutive points to finally tie the game at 10-10. But the yellow card in game two turned into a red card as Newport took a 12-11 lead on a disputed and controversial line call.
Again Nield stepped up, scoring on an ace and a tip kill for the 14-13 lead. She would then set up Chow for the game-winning point.
After a moment of clarity, the team celebrated and the Islander fans in attendance stormed the court.
Islanders beat Skyline
Mercer Island also traveled to Skyline on Wednesday and beat the previously in-league undefeated Spartans 3-1. The loss during the second game of the match was just the second of the season for the Islanders and the first in league play.
“We were off and on during that second game, but we knew that we could win,” said Chow.
Mercer Island now moves on to the 3A KingCo tournament at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Mount Si High School as the No. 1 seed.