NAPAVINE — Rainier had to play a pigtail game to enter the 2B District 4 tournament. Five days later, the Mountaineers are headed to the state tournament.
No. 16 seed Rainier rebounded from a sweep to No. 1 Kalama in the district opener, then reeled off three-straight victories to secure their first state berth since 1997 on Wednesday.
The Mountaineers swept South Bend in the first round of the loser’s bracket Saturday, then beat sixth-seeded Ocosta in four (25-17, 21-25, 25-13, 25-17) on Wednesday and edged fourth-seeded Forks in a thrilling five-set battle (19-25, 25-23, 19-25, 26-24, 15-13) directly after to claim their spot at state.
“It’s more amazing than you’ll ever know,” Rainier coach Shauna Carpenter said. “These girls, they knew that starting that pigtail game started a whole new season. They bought into everything we said, turned it around and here we are. First state berth in a long time.”
It’s an impressive feat for a Mountaineers team that finished 3-18 overall and just 1-7 in league, finishing in a three-way tie with Toledo and Morton-White Pass for the final district spot. Rainier won the coin toss to play the winner of the other two, then won convincingly over Toledo to nab the 16th seed.
A loss to Kalama in the first round was to be expected. What wasn’t, was a sweep of No. 8 seeed South Bend in the first round of the loser’s bracket Saturday. On Wednesday at Napavine High School, the Mountaineers hammered No. 6 Ocosta to set up a winner-to-state match against Forks right after.
The Spartans were coming off a sweep of No. 7 Onalaska earlier in the night and looked like a formidable force. And it looked like the Mountaineers might be in for a quick night and a disappointing bus ride home after falling 25-19 in the first set.
But Rainier roared back to life, edging the Spartans, 25-23 in the second set. Another slowdown by the Mountaineers gave Forks a 25-19 victory in the third set, putting Rainier in a do-or-die situation.
Rainier stayed steady and won a thrilling, 26-24 fourth set to push it to five. The Mountaineers came flying out the gates in the fifth, jumping out to a 6-3 lead, then pushing it to 13-9 before Forks battled back to cut the deficit to 14-13. Rainier held on and put the Spartans away for match point and the Mountaineers’ leaped in celebration.
Senior Natasha Wood said it’s an amazing feeling to know they knocked off a Forks team that entered as the heavy favorite.
“I think it pushed us really hard to know we were going up against such a good team, and we knew we had to match them,” Wood said. “We wanted to play hard and we wanted to go to state. It gave us an advantage that we looked like the underdog, but we came up and we got 'em.”
Carpenter said it was by far the team’s best performance of the season.
“We, just in the last week, learned what finish means; like playing to win versus playing not to lose,” Carpenter said. “Obviously, as you can see, this is playing to win. They wanted it.”
Rainier will next face No. 5 Toutle Lake at 6 p.m., Saturday, at Adna High School to determine who moves on to the 3rd/4th-place match and who will head to the 5th/6th-place game for state seeding.