MERIDIAN — In all four sets played between the Filer and Sugar-Salem high school volleyball teams in Saturday’s 3A state championship match, the Diggers scored the first point.
Those 1-0 deficits certainly weren’t the most daunting the Wildcats faced this season, but they represented the attitude with which they played. They simply never gave up.
Trailing the Diggers two sets to zero in the semifinals on Saturday morning at Mountain View High School, the Wildcats rallied and came back to win 3-2. Those slight leads the Diggers clung to in the title match were nothing for the Wildcats, who won the match 3-1 for their first state title since 1997.
“I knew we could do it, but I was like, ‘Are we going to? Are we going to show up?’” Filer senior Abee Bandy said. “The team I know showed up.”
That team she knew had a point to prove all season, and that was magnified on Oct. 2, when the Wildcats blew a 2-0 set lead against Gooding and suffered a home Sawtooth Central Idaho Conference loss.
Filer head coach Tanya Beard shook her head at the mention of that contest, but acknowledged its importance to her team’s season. Unbeaten before the loss, it proved to be a timely blip in an otherwise dominant campaign.
“It lit a fire,” sophomore Ella Fischer said. “We hadn’t dropped a set before that. We really got focused. ... It was something we needed.”
A couple weeks later, the Wildcats had to beat Gooding twice to win the district title. They did.
This weekend, they had to knock off Homedale, Timberlake and Sugar-Salem in the first three rounds of state tournament. Again, Filer was equal to the task.
Having already knocked off the Diggers in the semifinals 22-25, 12-25, 25-23, 25-17, 16-14, the Wildcats knew the championship would be a test. A back-and-forth opening set nearly opened up when Sugar-Salem took a 19-16 lead. Instead, Filer went on a 9-4 run to take the frame, and a Fischer kill gave the Wildcats a 1-0 lead.
Playing from behind again in the second set, as the Diggers went up 8-2 early, the Wildcats turned it around and looked to seal it with a 24-21 advantage. Instead, Sugar-Salem went on a 5-0 run to win 26-24, and the contest was knotted at 1-1.
The Wildcats never wavered. Fischer said everybody’s mannerisms on the court told her they’d pull through despite the second set loss, and her coach felt the same way.
“I knew we’d be OK,” Beard said. “As long as we executed and did what we needed to do, we’d be fine.”
Filer did just that, running away with a 25-20 win in set three. Junior Gracie Robinson put on the finishing touches with a well-placed kill.
The Wildcats saved the best for last in in the fourth set.
Again, Sugar-Salem took a 1-0 lead, but that was the only time Filer trailed in what would be the final set of the match. The Wildcats went on a 5-0 run and commanded the final frame, winning 25-14.
Fischer supplied the final kill, just like she did in the first set. The sophomore finished with a team-high 23 kills and was the most dangerous player on the floor throughout. Beard said Fischer is simply her top hitter, and the team relies on her.
“We just came together and played together as we’ve needed to all season,” Fischer said. “It finally came together at the end.”
Along with Fischer’s standout performance, Robinson supplied nine kills and led the team with 20 digs. Junior Halle Knight notched a team-high 18 assists, and freshman Alexis Monson added 16 assists and six blocks.
The last time the Filer volleyball program won a state title, 21 years ago, it was in the 2A classification. Saturday’s championship was the fourth in program history and the Wildcats’ first in 3A. Beard said her team is full of great kids that deserved to be crowned.
Fischer said she knew from the beginning of the season that, if the Wildcats (20-2) were able to get their heads into it, they’d be talented enough to win the title. Shortly after Saturday’s final match, Fischer said she couldn’t truly explain how it felt, other than “phenomenal.”
For Bandy and her only other senior classmate, Jaylee Bingham, it was a special send-off.
“It’s awesome,” Bandy said. “We’ve talked about it all year. It’s amazing to just be part of it. We’ve worked so hard all season for this, and we pulled it together.”