Cats Take First

The girls volleyball team wins their first district title since 2012.

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Brooke Highmark

The girls volleyball team faces the net for the starting lineup in the district championship game.

“Out of yourself and into the team.”

This phrase, started by new Head Coach Ben Briney, has been the varsity volleyball team’s motto for the 2021 season. After last year’s shortened season due to COVID, the players didn’t have as much time to bond, but this year that has changed.

At the end of the day, we’re playing for each other.”

— Alli Bishop

With this mindset, the Cats were more than ready for the Class 4 District 5 tournament. As a result of their 20-8 record, they claimed the 1 seed and received a bye, facing Villa Duchesne in the semifinals on Friday, October 22nd at home.

Westminster got off to a slow start, but with their strong hitting, they were able to tie it up 14-14 to force a timeout by the Saints. From this point on, it was neck and neck, but they eventually fell short and allowed Villa to claim the first set, 23-25.

Hailey Pritchett, senior setter, started off the second set at the serving line, and with help from her teammate, Emma Fairchild, junior opposite hitter, the Cats gained some momentum. Even after another Villa timeout, they kept up the energy and didn’t allow for a comeback. With a final kill from Alli Bishop, junior opposite hitter, Westminster dominated the set 25-10.

In the third set, Bishop and Abby Siess, junior outside hitter, stayed hot, putting constant pressure on Villa’s back row and forcing a timeout when the scoreboard read 18-13. Avery Stanfill, junior libero, has been the definition of consistency since her freshman year. As usual, she displayed her invaluableness through flawless passes. After an additional timeout from both teams, the Cats took the third set, 25-19.

Once again, Westminster took an early lead and didn’t let up. After a few possessions of match point, Tatum Osmon, senior middle blocker, tipped the ball to secure the set, 25-14, and the match, 3-1.

While the Cats were excited, they could not celebrate for too long. They needed to focus on their next task ahead: the district championship game.

Vick and Fairchild jump up for the block against Clayton. (Brooke Highmark)

On Tuesday, October 26th, Clayton traveled to the Westminster arena and brought a stadium full of fans with them. From the beginning, the atmosphere was full of energy and excitement, and it translated to the attitudes of both teams.

The Greyhounds started off hot from the serving line, leading to several errors from the Cats, possibly due to nerves. Later in the set, Shelby Truitt, junior outside hitter, popped up a coverage ball with her foot from the other team’s block, causing her teammates and the crowd to go crazy. This soar of momentum carried the Cats to 25 points over Clayton’s 18.

Yet again, Westminster started off the set uncharacteristically slow, giving away the first three points of the set. After a timeout to regain focus, Lexi Vick and Madison Schofield, both senior middle blockers, contributed some athletic blocks to slow down the Greyhound’s front row. The Cats didn’t gain their first lead of the set until the score was 23-22, but with help from several consecutive kills by Bishop, they added a second victory of the night.

Going into the third set, the Cats assumed that they had the match secured, as they only needed one more set to claim the title. However, in Clayton’s mind, the game was far from over.

We lacked discipline because we expected Clayton to mess up rather than having to step up ourselves.”

— Hailey Pritchett

Star players for the Greyhounds, Sara Taylor, senior, and Hannah Taylor, freshman, caused trouble for the Cats the entire game with numerous powerful kills. Luckily, however, Fairchild was able to respond with the same tenacity. The set was back and forth, with Wildcat fans on the edge of their seats anticipating a victory when the scoreboard read 23-23. However, the Cats were unable to follow through, and Clayton earned their first win of the night, 26-24.

After already playing for an hour and a half, the match entered into a fourth set. Clayton gained a quick 8-2 lead, as Westminster struggled with their serve receive. Stanfill made some incredible digs, and Pritchett and Seiss showcased their chemistry, but the Cats’ efforts were not enough to regain the lead. The Greyhounds took a 25-22 win to tie the total score, 2-2.

The fifth and final set of the match. Winner takes all. First to 15 points wins.

Once again, points were being awarded back and forth between both teams. Tied up at 8-8, Bishop made a clutch solo block against the younger Taylor sister that left her teammates in awe. With the score at 13-13, the suspense in the room was at its peak. On match point, the Cats executed a perfect connection from Stanfill, to Siess, to Bishop for the game winning tip. The crowd erupted. After an extremely anxious and prolonged game, Westminster could finally claim the district plaque for the first time in nine years.

“I was so nervous. I was shaking. On game point, I had a moment where I freaked and didn’t even know what was going on. I kept checking the scoreboard to make sure that we actually won,” said Bishop.

“I was in tears, I was so happy. It was like that moment where you realize that everything we have done this season has paid off. It might’ve been my best moment at Westminster, or even my entire life. Having the Blue Crew and the crowd go nuts made the moment 100 times better,” said Pritchett.

So, what changed in the past few seasons that allowed the Cats to finally win a district championship? Many of the players will argue that the answer is Coach Briney. Although this is only his first season, he has matched up very well with the girls and has introduced a disciplined and winning culture to the program.

We had the talent and potential but needed someone to shape us.”

— Alli Bishop

The volleyball team now moves on to sectionals, where they face McCluer North on Thursday, October 28th at 6:30 p.m. at Duchesne High School.