KELLOGG — At the beginning of the season, the Wildcats set some goals for themselves.
They knew they wanted to host their district tournament.
To do that, they had to win the Intermountain League.
Check and check.
They wanted to get back to the state tournament, but not sneak in like they did last year, they wanted to win their district tournament.
Check and check.
It wasn’t always their best play of the season, but when things get done, they got done.
In the opening round of the 3A Intermountain League District Tournament, Kellogg took on the plucky Coeur d’Alene Charter Panthers led by IML MVP Megan Mackinney.
It may have only taken three sets (25-23, 25-19, and 25-17) to dispatch the Panthers, but to call it easy would be doing a disservice to both teams.
The opening set saw Charter come out with an upset mentality, just one night after playing a long 5-set match against Bonners Ferry, they were not in Kellogg to be the Wildcats’ doormat.
They pushed Kellogg to the literal brink in that first frame, but the Wildcats did what they do best.
They rallied, they responded, they won.
Earlier in the evening, Timberlake survived against their rivals the Priest River Spartans to set up the championship meeting that everyone wanted to see.
Now, for context, Timberlake girls have pretty much dominated the team-sports aspect of the IML for the better part of the last decade and any time they see a dip in talent, they are able to counter it with a wealth of big game experience.
This was the story on Thursday night.
Could Kellogg beat a team for a third time this season in a setting that Timberlake had dominated.
In set one, you could see where that concern suddenly became a reality.
Kellogg came out flat in the opening contest, struggling with missed serves, communication errors and seemingly unable to live up to the moment.
Despite a comeback attempt, it was the Tigers who would take the opening set 26-24.
Then something changed.
Kellogg woke up.
When you watch a Kellogg Wildcats volleyball match and you want to gauge how the match is going, then the player to keep an eye on is probably senior Cierra Brandt.
When most matches start, she has a big smile plastered on her face, like she’s the happiest person in the world (given her love for volleyball, she probably is).
If a match takes a bad turn for the Wildcats and that smile disappears, that is when teams should get concerned, because it won’t come back until she has her squad back in control.
After the first set, Cierra was not smiling.
That’s when the game shifted and became so lopsided that it almost felt like the Wildcats had been toying with their opposition.
And then the smile was back.
The Wildcats dominated the Tigers, using a combination of back row prowess and their comic-book level of size and strength at the net to go on a 75-40 run over the next three frames and move one step closer to their next goal.
The Wildcats will now be making their fifth appearance at the State Tournament in school history, but this time they walk in as one of the favorites in the tournament.
So, while their list of goals might be getting smaller, accomplishing them is going to get harder.
The Kellogg volleyball team will be opening the 3A State Tournament on Friday, Nov. 1, at Lake City High School at 9 a.m.