Castle Rock aced every test thrown at it entering Tuesday’s matchup with Trico 1A rival La Center. It was an undefeated 8-0, winners of the Monarch Challenge and looking like a true district title contender.

This was the barometer, though. La Center always presents the most difficult challenge of the league season.

And the Rockets passed another quiz with flying colors Tuesday night at LeBaron Court. Behind a diverse offense, a career night for setter Ranae Holter and a relentless drive in front of a rowdy crowd, the Rockets topped La Center for the first time since 2014, winning 25-21, 20-25, 25-23, 25-22.

“We’ve worked hard for this and I’m just so pumped,” junior Zoe Naugle said. “We just celebrate the small stuff and don’t let the other things take us down.”

Senior captain Auna Dolan had 15 kills, 14 digs and seven blocks, talented middle Zoe Naugle picked up 15 kills and 12 blocks and sophomore star Logann Golden had 10 kills and 27 digs. That’s expected of those three more nights than not.

But in the biggest games, coaches love to see role players shine too. Castle Rock coach Jeana Bayes got that wish answered Tuesday.

“It’s an absolute great feeling,” Bayes said of the contributions from the entire rotation. “It’s kind of an emotional feeling. It’s nice to see the effort they put in show on the court.”

Rachel Anderson picked up 19 digs, including a key save in the third set that allowed the Rockets from going down in the match, and the frosh setter Holter had a career-best 42 assists.

“Ranae does a really good job of switching up the ball,” Bayes said. “We use all of our hitters often. A lot of teams have a go-to and we have three go-to people on the court at all times. If Ranae can make a play and get the ball up, somebody can execute.”

The Rockets (9-0, 5-0 league) started strong in sets, going on early runs to take control, and then they were able to stay composed when the raucous student sections got going with Wildcats’ runs.

Up 23-21 in the third, the Rockets were watching a seven-point lead slip out of their grasp. La Center (7-3, 4-1) hitter Laynie Erickson delivered a powerful strike and it looked like the comeback was nearing its completion. Out of nowhere, Anderson leapt to the ground and punched it over the net for a point.

“I wasn’t going to be happy about it until we won,” Anderson quipped.

Castle Rock finished off the set two points later and rolled to a 5-1 lead in the fourth set before eventually holding off another La Center rally to capture the victory.

“All you have to do is trust your mechanics, know you’ve worked hard and everything will fall into place,” Anderson said of staying composed in those crunchtime moments.

If Tuesday night was any indication of what Castle Rock can accomplish this season, the Rocket faithful will be dreaming big as the sun rises Wednesday. This is as good a team as the Rockets have had in years.

And the win was as good a performance as they’ve had all season.

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Joshua is the sports editor for The Daily News. He joined the staff in January 2016 after working at The Bellingham Herald. He is a Western Washington University graduate and native of the Puget Sound region.

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