The Idaho Falls High School volleyball team snapped a skid versus its District 91 rival and secured its seeding for the 4A District 6 tournament all in one night Thursday.
The Tigers, who entered Thursday’s game having lost to the Grizz in their last four regular season meetings, returned to the win column versus Skyline with a 25-18, 25-17, 25-23 victory at Skyline High School. The win, paired with Blackfoot’s four-set win over Hillcrest at Blackfoot, gave Idaho Falls the No. 3 seed for districts, which begin Tuesday. A Skyline win and Blackfoot win would have prompted a tiebreaker situation between Idaho Falls and Blackfoot for the No. 3 seed. The tiebreaker was avoided, however, and Skyline, Idaho Falls and Blackfoot claimed the No. 2 through No. 4 seeds, respectively, by finishing the regular season one game apart in the 4A District 6 standings.
“We’ve been looking forward to this match since the last time we played them,” Idaho Falls head coach Kaitlyn Zarpentine said. “I’ve been antsy all day. We were really excited to show how much growth we’ve had in our program since the start of the season.”
The eagerness of playing the Grizzlies again was evident Thursday for the Tigers, who lost to Skyline in four sets in their last meeting on Sept. 5. After building an advantage as large as 17-10, enduring two lead changes and being denied the set point twice, Idaho Falls took the first set 25-18. The set featured a diving save by Skyline, an ace by Skyline’s Aubrey Hazekamp and an Idaho Falls block achieved by the ball bouncing off 6-foot-1 one junior Brenna Clyde’s head, which prompted laughter from her and her teammates on the court and the bench after the Tigers got the point.
Three lead changes occurred in set two, including a stretch where Skyline got four unanswered points to go up 14-13. The Tigers then went on to score 12 of the next 15 points to take the set 25-17.
All the thrilling plays in the first two sets were like a lead up to the third set. Idaho Falls had a one-handed sliding save that drew ‘awes’ and cheers from the stands and both teams had numerous lengthy rallies, including a couple by the Grizzlies to cut their deficit to 23-20 and deny the Tigers the set point. Idaho Falls took the set after Skyline served into the net.
Contributing to several of I.F.’s biggest plays in the third set was Sydney Hess, who prompted ‘She’s a freshman’ chants from the I.F. student section with her efforts.
One of four freshmen on I.F.’s varsity roster, Hess credited her upperclassmen teammates for getting her acclimated to playing at the varsity level.
“They’ve been so helpful,” Hess said. “I’m very grateful for them. I just wanted them to have a great game.”
Hess ended the evening with 12 kills while fellow freshman Kara Stohl had five kills, senior Katie Stohl had 36 assists, junior Samantha Sleight had 15 digs and junior Sage Berrett had six kills for Idaho Falls, which ends the regular season 18-16 overall, 6-4 versus 4A District 6 opponents and will begin districts Tuesday versus No. 6 Hillcrest.
Zarpentine said the Tigers have turned a corner recently, and their four freshmen have gained experience.
“They’re a great bunch,” she said. “They’ve been playing at an elite level for a while now. They’re very competitive.”
Hazekamp had three aces, Sophie Anderson had 10 kills and 11 digs and Tailer Thomas had three blocks for Skyline, which ends the regular season 15-11-1 overall and 7-3 versus 4A District 6 opponents. Skyline head coach Bryant Neibaur said the Tigers wanted Thursday’s game more than the Grizz.
“They’re a great team and I feel like we’re evenly matched,” Neibaur said. “It’s always great to play I.F. They bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the match. I wish it would have gone differently tonight, but we’ll just get ready for districts.”
The Grizz have a first-round bye for districts, which begin Tuesday at No. 1 seeded Bonneville. Skyline is off to its best start in 4A since joining the classification in 2016, and best season in recent years, an accomplishment Neibaur credits to the Grizz being receptive.
“These kids, they’ve been open to change,” he said. “I think we’re just starting to see what we can do. They’ve practiced harder than any team I’ve coached, they’ve improved more than any team I’ve coached and they want it more than any team I’ve coached.”