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Meridian downs Nooksack Valley to claim 1A District 1 volleyball title

Trojans prevail in 4 sets to win first district championship since 2021

Meridian's Emry Claeys
Meridian's Emry Claeys
By Connor J. Benintendi Sports Editor

LAUREL — Meridian’s Emry Claeys punched in her game-high 18th kill between two Nooksack Valley blockers to cap the fourth set and the Trojans beat the Pioneers 3-1 (25-16, 25-20, 17-25, 25-22) in the 1A District 1 volleyball championship on Tuesday, Oct. 31 at Meridian High School.

Claeys, Meridian’s only senior, continued her stellar final season with the Trojans by helping them win their first district title since 2021. Meridian also clinched a bid to the 1A state tournament with the victory.

That 2021 season was also the last time Meridian went to state, and the Trojans finished third.

Winning the district title was affirming for Meridian head coach Angie Short, who took over for now-assistant coach Shannon Claeys this season after spending the last four years as the program’s junior varsity coach.

“It’s amazing. It’s what we set our goals for at the beginning of the season,” Short said. “We’re a very young team. A lot of these girls were my JV players. I’m so incredibly proud of them … they’re a true testament to what hard work will do for you.”

The Trojans (15-4) played largely mistake-free volleyball in the first two sets, which helped them jump out to a 2-0 lead. Short said that was a result of film study following the Meridian’s sweeping loss to NV (11-6) in the regular season on Oct. 18 — a match that was played on NV’s home court.

photo  Meridian’s Emry Claeys spikes the ball past Nooksack Valley’s Tana Hoekema, left, and Payton Bartl. (Andrew Ford/Cascadia Daily News)  

“We made some adjustments against what they do best, and I think just played with a little bit more composure today than we did over there [at NV],” Short said. “We had some emotions and [our] youth kind of showed through in that one.”

Meridian led the entire first set Tuesday night. NV trimmed the Trojans’ 16-8 lead midway through the frame down to four, but Meridian scored six of the set’s final seven points to win it, 25-16.

Another fast start by Meridian gave way far quicker than it was established, and the Trojans’ 11-5 lead crumbled via a 6-0 run by the Pioneers. NV went on to take its first lead of the entire match at 15-14.

But the Pioneers’ advantage wouldn’t last. Trailing 16-14, Meridian strung together nine consecutive points — many from its own offensive efficacy, and others from NV unable to convert good defense into offense. 

The Pioneers fought back, but Meridian closed out the second set 25-20.

“They were the hammer, and we were the nail,” NV head coach Katie Emmons said. “It was the opposite … when we played them the first time, we kept them on their heels. It just switched around.”

The third set, however, was all Nooksack Valley. Defensively, the Pioneers — who won the set 25-17 — cleaned up the miscues that burdened them in the first two sets, forcing longer volleys and making Meridian earn each of its points. 

photo  Nooksack Valley High School’s libero Juliana Gimmaka kneels disappointed after failing to dig the volleyball. (Andrew Ford/Cascadia Daily News)  

NV entered the fourth set with all the momentum, and it nearly paid off. The Pioneers took a five-point lead early before Meridian sorted itself out. The frame featured seven ties and five lead changes, and Claeys capped her night with a match-point spike.

Claeys finished with 21 digs in addition to her 18 kills. Freshman Eden Bernardy tallied 13 kills and 11 digs, and junior Rylan Bernardy added 25 digs and five aces. Junior Grace Wells had 37 assists and sophomore Gracie Pap blocked six balls at the net.

For NV, senior Lainey Kimball totaled 17 kills and 17 digs, while fellow senior Tana Hoekema finished with 13 kills and four blocks. Senior Juliana Gimmaka bolstered the Pioneers’ defense with 27 digs, while senior Cailyn Likkel tallied seven blocks.

NV will have one more chance to advance to the 1A state tournament when it faces Lynden Christian (9-10) in the consolation final at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 2.

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