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   Hot-serving Katrina McGranahan is one of seven seniors on this year’s state-bound Coupeville High School volleyball squad. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

   After missing her junior year with a leg injury, Kyla Briscoe returned to play a key role in the Wolves success.

Welcome to the Group of Death.

Coupeville’s first trip to the state volleyball tournament in 13 years comes with one small caveat — spikes are about to fly.

But, survive the beginning, and the finale could be sweet.

The 16-team, double-elimination tourney opens Friday with two matches for each team, and the Wolves companions are the deadliest to be found.

Coupeville’s block of four teams includes both remaining undefeated schools, including the defending state champs, who HAVEN’T LOST A SET THIS SEASON … and some rich, private school you all might remember named King’s.

The Wolves won at least one match in all four of their previous trips to the big dance, between 2001-2004.

To keep that going, though, they will have to play their best volleyball of the season.

The opening foe (3:15 PM Friday) is Castle Rock, which arrives bearing a 16-0 mark.

The Rockets were the regular-season champs of the six-team 1A Trico League, which also sends La Center to state.

Castle Rock captured the title at the District 4 tourney, with wins over King’s Way Christian and the aforementioned La Center, earning its 25th trip to state.

In their previous visits, the Rockets have emerged as state champs three times — 1987, 1993 and 2012. They were runner-ups in 1983, 2008 and 2011, as well.

Win or lose, Coupeville is guaranteed a second match Friday night, and that foe will either be former Cascade Conference rival King’s, or the hottest team in 1A currently, Lakeside (Nine Mile Falls).

The Knights, a longtime thorn in the side of the Wolves until CHS jumped to the Olympic League in 2014, are 15-2.

King’s only losses came to 2A Archbishop Thomas Murphy, a defeat it avenged late in the season, and fellow 1A power Lynden Christian.

That loss to the Lyncs kept the Knights from claiming a bi-district title, but they rebounded to drill Meridian to earn their 16th trip to the big dance.

Back-to-back state titles in 2008 and 2009 are the benchmark for King’s spiker program.

But while the Knights are undoubtedly top-drawer, they have a huge obstacle in front of them in Lakeside (Nine Mile Falls), which hails from Spokane.

After winning three straight state titles from 1999-2001, the Eagles captured their fourth championship in 2016, and are now back to take their 13th crack at the big dance.

Last year’s title win came against Lynden Christian, preventing the Lyncs from winning a third-straight championship.

While plowing through the eight-team 1A Northeast League, which also sends Freeman to state, Lakeside has been absolutely, positively perfect, winning all 48 sets it has played this season.

With Coupeville a tidy 13-3 itself, its four-team bracket carries a combined record of 60-5, a .923 winning percentage which far outweighs the other three groups.

Whidbey Island’s other state-bound team, South Whidbey, is joined by Charles Wright Academy, Chelan and Naches Valley, and their combined .761 winning percentage (54-17) is the lowest of any group of four.

The other two pods are 58-9 (.866) — La Center, Cascade, Kiona-Benton and Overlake — and 53-15 (.779) — Freeman, Lynden Christian, Bellevue Christian and Goldendale.

A breakdown of what’s coming this weekend:

What: 1A state volleyball tourney.

When: Friday and Saturday, Nov. 10-11

Where: Yakima Valley SunDome (1301 S Fair Ave)

Admission (all day/all tournament):

Adult — $11/$19
Student — $9/$15
Senior Citizen (62+) — $9/$15
Child (under 5) — Free

 

Team capsules:

 

Coupeville:

Season record: 13-3

League finish: #1 in 1A Olympic League

Sets W/L: 40-10

Coach: Cory Whitmore

Mascot: Wolves

 

Bellevue Christian:

Season record: 12-5

League finish: #2 in 1A Nisqually League

Sets W/L: 37-18

Coach: Jenna Bronson

Mascot: Vikings

 

Cascade:

Season record: 14-1

League finish: #1 in 1A Caribou Trail League

Sets W/L: 42-5

Coach: Marni McMahon

Mascot: Kodiaks

 

Castle Rock:

Season record: 16-0

League finish: #1 in 1A Trico League

Sets W/L: 48-9

Coach: Jeana Bayes

Mascot: Rockets

 

Charles Wright Academy:

Season record: 13-4

League finish: #1 in 1A Nisqually League

Sets W/L: 42-18

Coach: Mindy McGrath

Mascot: Tarriers

 

Chelan:

Season record: 12-4

League finish: #2 in 1A Caribou Trail League

Sets W/L: 39-13

Coach: Jenifer Rainville

Mascot: Mountain Goats

 

Freeman:

Season record: 14-3

League finish: #2 in 1A Northeast League

Sets W/L: 42-10

Coach: Eva Windlin-Jansen

Mascot: Scotties

 

Goldendale:

Season record: 12-5

League finish: #3 in 1A SCAC West

Sets W/L: 42-24

Coach: Jodi Bellamy

Mascot: Timberwolves

 

King’s:

Season record: 15-2

League finish: #1 (tie) in 1A/2A Cascade Conference

Sets W/L: 46-10

Coach: Jeff Fransen

Mascot: Knights

 

Kiona-Benton:

Season record: 15-2

League finish: #1 (tie) in 1A SCAC East

Sets W/L: 44-10

Coach: Jolene Calzadillas

Mascot: Bears

 

La Center:

Season record: 14-5

League finish: #2 in 1A Trico League

Sets W/L: 47-21

Coach: Cymany OBrien

Mascot: Wildcats

 

Lakeside (Nine Mile Falls):

Season record: 16-0

League finish: #1 in 1A Northeast League

Sets W/L: 48-0

Coach: Kara Moffatt

Mascot: Eagles

 

Lynden Christian:

Season record: 15-2

League finish: #3 in 1A/2A/3A Northwest Conference

Sets W/L: 49-12

Coach: Kim Grycel

Mascot: Lyncs

 

Naches Valley:

Season record: 14-4

League finish: #1 in 1A SCAC West

Sets W/L: 46-20

Coach: Sherri Partlow

Mascot: Rangers

 

Overlake:

Season record: 15-2

League finish: #1 in 1A Emerald City League

Sets W/L: 46-11

Coach: Justice Magraw

Mascot: Owls

 

South Whidbey:

Season record: 15-5

League finish: #3 in 1A/2A Cascade Conference

Sets W/L: 50-15

Coach: Mandy Jones

Mascot: Falcons

 

Bracket:

http://www.olympicleague.com/tournament.php?tournament_id=2451&sport=10

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   CWLL coach Mimi Johnson celebrates with daughter Stella. (Renae Mulholland photos)

Kylie Van Velkinburgh enjoys a post-game interview.

District 11 champs. (Photo courtesy Mimi Johnson)

They won when it mattered most.

After dropping a pair of one-run games to Orcas Island earlier in the season, the Central Whidbey Little League Juniors softball squad was hankering for some sweet revenge.

And they found it Saturday.

Playing at home in Coupeville, the Mayhem rallied for back-to-back wins, clinching the District 11 title and a trip to the state tourney.

The big dance kicks off June 27 in Monroe.

To punch its ticket, Central Whidbey erupted for five runs in the eighth inning to pull out a 10-5 win in the opener, then rallied for three in the bottom of the seventh to nab the nightcap 10-9.

The tying and winning runs came home on a two-run single off the bat of Jill Prince.

Central Whidbey’s lineup Saturday included eight players from its regular season roster — Coral Caveness, Audrianna Shaw, Melody Wilkie, Kylie Van Velkinburgh, Stella Johnson, Prince, Marenna Rebischke-Smith and Mollie Bailey — and three new additions.

That trio is Madelyn Tucker, McKenzie Hodges and Annabelle Thayer.

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   Clay Reilly, seen here on Senior Night, had Coupeville’s only hit Tuesday in a 2-1 playoff loss. (John Fisken photo)

We’ve seen this story before.

Two gunslingers working the mound on a sunny prairie afternoon, trading zeroes back and forth in a loser-out district playoff game.

And while one of the teams, and both pitchers, were different Tuesday than they were back in 2015, the result was the same — an agonizing one-run loss for the Coupeville High School baseball squad on its home diamond.

This time around, it was Bellevue Christian, and not Cascade Christian, which ended any hopes the Wolves had of contending for state glory.

Powered by the golden pitching arm of junior Eric Kats, who tossed a one-hit, eight-strikeout gem, the Vikings survived a seventh-inning crisis and escaped Whidbey with a 2-1 win.

The victory propels BC (8-10) into the double-elimination portion of districts — three of those four teams will punch a ticket to state — where it will meet Seattle Christian.

Klahowya, the Olympic League champ, plays Cascade Christian, which eliminated Chimacum 2-1 Tuesday afternoon.

Coupeville finishes 11-9.

A game where every one of the three (unearned) runs greatly mattered and where little miscues were unfortunately magnified, CHS coach Chris Smith could only shake his head afterwards.

“I love one-run games, love them … when we win,” he said with a soft smile. “It was a great baseball game. That’s why we play them. Just came down to the little things and we came up a little bit short.”

Still, he was pleased with the effort of his own pitcher, junior Hunter Smith, who whiffed five and gave BC few opportunities.

“Very, very happy with how he pitched,” Chris Smith said.

Coupeville has six seniors, three of whom were in the starting lineup.

Center fielder Clay Reilly, who had the most sustained success of any of the seniors over the past four years, lashed the only Wolf hit, a screamer down the left field line in the bottom of the first.

He also walked and scored Coupeville’s lone run.

Kats and Hunter Smith were lights out at the start, each giving up just a solitary base-knock through the first two innings.

BC couldn’t get its lone runner past first, though, while the Wolves stranded Reilly at second.

When the Vikings broke through in the top of the third, they did so without really doing much of anything special.

A Coupeville defense that was otherwise pretty spot-on had a rare lapse, committing two crucial errors, one on a misplayed grounder, the other on a throw that skipped under the glove at third.

That allowed a Bellevue runner who should have been out at least two, if not three times, to skip home with the game’s first run, then the Vikings plated a second man on a long sac fly to the deepest part of right field.

After that, Hunter Smith retired 12 of the final 16 hitters, allowing only one runner past first base from the fourth through the seventh.

The only problem was Kats, who was mixing up three to four different pitches very effectively, was keeping Coupeville’s hitters at bay.

The Wolves finally plopped a run on the scoreboard (no wait, the CHS scoreboard doesn’t work…) in the fourth, when Reilly walked, moved to second on a bunt by Julian Welling, then scooted home on a two-out grounder off the bat of Dane Lucero.

It actually looked like Reilly’s run wouldn’t count, however, as the field ump initially called Lucero out on a bang-bang play.

After a discussion with the home plate ump, though, the call was overturned, Kats was charged with an error and Coupeville pulled within 2-1.

Bellevue Christian didn’t ruffle easily, though, and escaped on a two-out fly to center.

Down to their final two outs in the bottom of the seventh, the Wolves snapped their fans to attention, with what looked like it might be the kind of late-game rally on which legends are built.

Kory Score and Joey Lippo reached base on back-to-back errors in which the Viking infielders flat-out booted the ball and the tying and winning runs were in play.

It wasn’t to be, though as Viking catcher Cade Peterson, a freshman with the longest, silkiest locks of hair this side of a fashion runway, came up firing and threw Score out at third to blow out the embers before the fire could fully ignite.

The game ended, appropriately enough, on a final strikeout by Kats, and, even in defeat, it would be hard for even the most die-hard Wolf fan to not acknowledge the Viking hurler was superb on this day.

While Coupeville will lose Reilly, Score, Taylor Consford, Ethan Marx, Jonathan Thurston and Aiden Crimmins, it should return much of its core.

Chris Smith, who went 7-6 after taking over as head coach mid-way through the season when Marc Aparicio resigned, is already looking ahead.

“This is one of those games where you learn from the things that went wrong and erase those mistakes and come back strong next year. Tough one for our seniors, though.”

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Mitchell Carroll (left) and Nick Dion celebrate a state title in Science Olympiad.

Best in the biz.

Coupeville High School seniors Nick Dion and Mitchell Carroll beat competitors from 21 other schools Saturday to claim a title in Robot Arm at the Science Olympiad state championships.

The duo also finished fourth in Electric Vehicle, while teammates Josh Robinson and Luke Carlson claimed third place in Write It, Do It.

Sparked by their three top-five finishes, the Wolves finished 18th as a team, one spot better than they did in 2015, their last trip to state.

Camas won the team title.

Nationals are in Dayton, Ohio in May, but the season is done for Coupeville, as only the top teams, and not individual winners, advance to the big dance.

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"How do you like them apples, experts?" (John Fisken photo)

“How do you like them apples, experts?” (John Fisken photo)

Perception is a funny thing.

After the Coupeville High School girls’ basketball squad went two and out at the district playoffs, losing to Seattle Christian and Cascade Christian, there were some who felt the Wolves 15-4 record entering the postseason was suspect.

That CHS was “hurt by playing in the worst 1A league in the state.”

Which, as the numbers will show, isn’t even remotely close, but hold that thought for a second.

On the other side of our argument is Seattle Academy, which, at 17-3, is headed to state.

So, perception, at least from the outside, is that the Cardinals must be a great team.

Except…

Coupeville and Seattle Academy met head-to-head on a neutral court during the Friday Harbor Tip-Off Classic, and the Wolves won in a romp, 44-31.

Yet, all season long, the ScoreCzar computer ranked the Cardinals ahead of the Wolves.

Mention Coupeville’s better statistical numbers and harder schedule, both in terms of opponents winning percentage and the fact CHS played 14 of 21 away from home, and the computer had only one thing to fall back on — Seattle Academy’s point differential.

And this is where perception starts to be absolutely wrong.

And why I firmly believe if we flipped Coupeville to Seattle Academy’s Emerald City League and SA to the Olympic League, we would see an exact reversal of fortune.

Seattle Academy’s 17-3 record looks great, until we realize the Cardinals are only 2-3 against out-of-league competition.

Of the 10 leagues to play 1A ball in the state, the nine-team, private-school ECL had the worst winning percentage against non-league foes by a mile.

Counting its four playoff losses (so far), we’re talking 8-25.

A .242 winning percentage when every other 1A league hit .400 or better.

Outside its safety zone, Seattle Academy lost by double digits to Coupeville, Bellevue Christian and Lynden Christian.

Inside, against marginal teams, it dominated, winning many of its 15 league games by 30+ points.

Against mediocre teams that couldn’t beat anyone other than other mediocre teams in their own league.

Which, to a computer, apparently looks great.

And, since the ECL champ automatically advances to state, welcome to the big dance, Cardinals. Now try not to get hurt.

Seriously, as league champs, Seattle Academy skipped right to the championship game of bi-districts (there are no playoffs in District 2), so, win or lose, they were state-bound.

Their foe in that game, Lynden Christian, had to get through perennial powers Meridian and King’s to escape District 1, then promptly slaughtered the Cardinals 62-37.

The other three ECL teams to make the playoffs also skipped districts, qualified for a loser-out game at bi-districts and were squished one-two-three.

Mount Baker took out both #2 University Prep (61-28) and #4 Overlake (47-25), while Meridian mashed #3 Annie Wright (61-35).

Seattle Academy’s first-round foe at state? Meridian. It’s not going to be pretty.

And now we jump back to Coupeville, which finished off a third consecutive 9-0 season to remain the big dog in the Olympic League.

Seven of those league wins were of the double-digit variety, ranging from 10-18 points, while the other two were eight and nine-point wins.

For the season, they knocked off their closest rivals by an average of 11.6 points a night, down from 22.0 in 2014-2015 and 18.1 in 2015-2016.

The computers were wowed by Seattle Academy’s point differential and underwhelmed by Coupeville’s, while missing the pertinent point.

The Wolves didn’t romp to 30-point wins in league play like the Cardinals because their league was better. Their foes were tougher. They had a harder fight night in and night out.

It’s right there in the numbers.

Three of the four OL teams (Coupeville, Port Townsend and Chimacum) had winning non-conference records, and all four league teams (including cellar dweller Klahowya) beat 2A teams this season.

Overall, the league was #6 of 10 in terms of record against non-league opponents, way ahead of #10 ECL.

Chimacum, which is barely bigger than Coupeville in student body size, won four times against 2A schools, in fact.

Frankly, a nine-point win against the Cowboys, a solid squad that won a district playoff game, means far more than Seattle Academy rolling by 40 against Eastside Prep, which finished 0-19.

Go outside the league and Coupeville won six times, including beating two state-bound teams (Seattle Academy and Friday Harbor) while playing twice in less than 24 hours on the road.

The Cardinals have no wins against state-bound teams.

If you flip Coupeville into the ECL, I’m willing to bet they also go 15-0 and win most of their games in a romp.

Why not? The Wolves already played the best that league had to offer this year and toasted them.

So why would they fear The Bush School or Bear Creek?

Put Seattle Academy in the OL and does it go 9-0 against Kaitlyn Meek and the Nisbet sisters? I’m not quite as convinced.

I could be wrong, but, if they stayed undefeated (in a tougher league), then congratulations, Cardinals. But I’ll believe it when I see it.

Now, all of this changes nothing.

Seattle Academy, despite playing in one postseason game (and taking a 25-point loss), is state-bound.

And I’m not trying to rag on the Cardinals. Seriously.

As a wise hoops coach once said, “we are in the league we are in,” and that’s very true.

Seattle Academy did everything it was supposed to do to earn a state berth. The Cardinals shouldn’t be faulted, in the slightest.

Meanwhile, Coupeville, despite being a better team where it mattered — on the floor, head-to-head — had a poor playoff run in a district where you have to actually win to advance, and its players have turned in their uniforms.

If it comes across as sour grapes to bemoan the tougher path the Wolves faced, no one should really give that much credence.

CHS knew what it faced, and while it completed the run during league, it most assuredly did not in the playoffs.

Based on those district losses, the Wolves can not argue in the slightest they deserve to be state-bound.

But it all goes back to perception, which is what’s bothering me right now.

People on the outside make snap judgements, without looking closer at what the numbers truly say or taking all the variables into consideration, and a lot of times they’re just flat wrong.

And yes, it’s very possible my own fairly limited knowledge of Seattle Academy basketball could mean I’m missing some pertinent info, as well.

Maybe while the Wolves were on the road (almost) every night, the Cardinals had to play in a home gym where the thermometer was permanently stuck at 17 degrees, or had to wear ’80s-style short shorts.

It’s certainly possible, if not probable.

In the end, we are where we are and all my nattering changes not a thing. Except maybe your perception.

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