Dominant at the net and strong on defense, top-ranked Auburn Riverside is peaking at the right hour as it prepares for another state volleyball title run.
The Ravens – as expected – captured the 4A North Puget Sound League Olympic Division title with a sweep of host Auburn Mountainview on Monday night. Game scores were 25-19, 25-7 and 25-11.
Auburn Riverside, the defending state champion, polished off an unbeaten division season at 7-0, 13-1 overall, as it opens league tournament play at Auburn High School this weekend. The Lions, state quarterfinalists who finished fifth at Kennewick last year, finished second in the Olympic race at 5-2, 5-9 overall.
“They’re playing pretty relaxed and confident,” said Ravens coach Chris Leverenz, who has orchestrated a pair of state titles in her 22 seasons with the program. “The past couple of weeks have given us the real opportunity to play together and be able to use and get a lot of kids (on the court), which is going to help us in the end for more depth.”
Auburn Riverside flexed its muscle up front in this one.
Calley Heilborn, a 6-foot-1 senior force who has committed to Western Washington University, delivered 15 kills and eight digs. She asserted herself in Game 2, and her teammates followed with a scoring spree that took the air out of the Lions’ gymnasium.
The Ravens owned the net, then used a crisp rotation of players and defense to pull away in the match.
“It’s one of our plans,” Heilborn said of being aggressive on the attack. “We definitely had to have a lot of energy because Auburn Mountainview always has a bunch of fans, and they always come in strong. We knew we had to do that and play good defense.”
Kate Pestova, a 5-9 senior outside hitter from Kazakhstan, had 12 kills, 15 digs and two blocks, and 6-1 senior Anna Maracich had five kills, five aces and three blocks. Brianna Ingram, a 6-foot sophomore, contributed five kills and two blocks for the Ravens.
From the back line, Ciera Zimmerman distributed 33 assists and threw down an ace.
The Lions had trouble containing the Ravens’ powerful punch, especially the work of Heilborn.
“(It’s important) just knowing where she is, but Chris is very crafty with her rotations so I give her credit for that,” said Lions coach Telia McDonald, whose team recovered nicely from an 0-6 start this season. “They played well tonight. I always enjoy playing against them. … It’s always fun for our kids to play at that competitive level.”
For the Lions, senior setter Bailey Williams had nine assists, seven digs and a block. Sophomore outside hitter Jenna Lacey finished with five kills and five digs. Jaylynn Sele had three kills, two digs and a block. Haylee Hooper had five digs, and Abby Gundersen added five digs, two kills, an ace and a block.
The Ravens are used to taking big matches and wearing league crowns.
“Although we usually do it every year, there’s still an excitement to winning it and keeping the streak going,” Heilborn said.
Auburn Riverside knows a difficult road is mapped out in front of it. They are ready for it, having played good competition, including an invite-only visit to the Durango Fall Classic in Las Vegas, Nev., in September, when the Ravens won four of seven matches and finished 22nd overall in a national-class field of 64 teams.
“It was good for my kids to be able to play in that environment and not have to feel pressured,” Leverenz said. “We played some very high-level teams, which was very good for us.”
Play in the desert gave the Ravens a perspective on what’s considered good volleyball and what it will take to be truly great.
“It was incredible. It was so cool to see all the teams from around the country that have won state,” Heilborn said. “It gives a better vision of what we will see and can expect later.”