For the first time since the pandemic came to America, the Lumberdome was humming, as the R.A. Long and Mark Morris volleyball teams met up Thursday evening. This time around, it was the Monarchs who ran Longview, sweeping the Lumberjills 25-21, 25-14, 25-12 in a match full of runs.
“It feels really good,” Mark Morris junior Elisabeth Weber said. “We’ve been off the court for about a year now, so it’s all a little bit of anticipation, nerves are high. It’s always super fun to play R.A. Long. It’s a rivalry, but they’re friends too, so it’s friendly. We play each other in club, we’re friends.”
Weber finished the night with a team-high eight kills.
The Monarchs raced out to early leads in the first set, taking advantage of some R.A. Long miscues to jump out to a 6-3 lead. The Lumberjills had a punch of their own waiting though, going on a 14-7 run to take the lead, push it to 17-13, and forcing Mark Morris coach Carmen Hewitt to call a timeout to help her players relax.
“We’re still pretty young, over half of our roster is sophomores,” Hewitt said. “In big situations like this, even if there isn’t a huge crowd, they still get so nervous and so tense. I was just telling them to calm down. All of them are really amazing athletes, they all play for their top club teams, and they put a lot of effort and work into being as good as they are. Just stay calm, stay loose, and play their game.”
Out of the timeout, the Jills widened their lead a bit, but slowly the Monarchs wrenched momentum back to their side. Six straight Mark Morris points turned a five-point deficit into a 21-20 lead, and a second 5-0 run gave the Monarchs the first set, 25-21.
It was a very similar story in the second set. This time, the Monarchs jumped ahead even further to start, with sophomore Kendall Blondin helping serve Mark Morris out to a 12-3 lead. Once again, though the Jills started the climb back, with freshman Kamia Tootoosis-Didier notching three aces in a row to spark a 7-0 run and close the gap to two points and force another timeout out of Hewitt.
And for the second straight set, the timeout talk worked.
“When that runs happens, there was a really big focus on communication, because that’s where our errors usually lie,” Weber said. “We really had to get our head in the game, talk to each other, go back to the basics, and work on not giving up.”
A Lumberjill error gave the ball to Weber, who proceeded to confound the R.A. Long serve-receive for four straight aces, and the Jills wouldn’t get closer than five points the rest of the set.
“When they pull up or curl back, that’s where you serve,” Weber said. “I was just focused on trying to hit that corner, trying to hit those people that were stacked up, and cause confusion.”
Weber finished with six aces, and the Monarchs as a team had 12.
“Lots of pressure on the serve,” Hewitt said. “We really worked on that, so that was awesome as well.”
In the third set, it was R.A. Long briefly jumping out with momentum to start, but Mark Morris clawed back with a 6-0 run to take the lead and would never surrender it, finishing the match with seven straight points to seal the sweep 25-12.
Madi Noel led the Monarchs with 22 digs on the night, including a 64 percent success rate on serve receive. Kendall Blondin tallied 16 assists, Regan Wilkinson added five kills, and Isabella Merzoian notched three kills and two blocks. Hallie Watson led Mark Morris with a 78 percent rate on her serve receive.
“The first set, we were on fire with everything we talked about in practice, serve-receive, serving, just everything,” R.A. Long coach Whitney Nailon said. “The second and the third sets — sometimes that just happens in volleyball.”
Junior middle blocker Danni Hopper led the Jills with seven kills and junior outside hitter Y Ta added six. Harli Whitman had 10 digs, Miranda Bergquist dished 16 assists, and Makayla Jenkins notched three blocks.
“There’s lots of room to grow, and it’s so good to be back in the gym,” Nailon said. “Sure, we didn’t win, but it’s good to be back.”