Olympic volleyball 'dIgs' to fight cancer

PORT ORCHARD — On paper, it will go down as a narrow, five-game victory for the Trojans.

But for those who were a part of Wednesday’s non-league volleyball match between South Kitsap and Olympic at South Kitsap High School, the magnitude of the evening exceeded wins and losses. It was a night when wearing pink was right, and when South and Olympic participated in a collective fight — against breast cancer.

With the gymnasium bubbling to capacity, the Wolves and Trojans joined for the first-ever DiG PiNK match to raise funds and awareness for breast cancer research.

DiG PiNK is the brainchild of the Side-Out Foundation, a Virginia-based nonprofit launched in 2004 to raise money via volleyball in the fight against breast cancer. It was founded in 2004 by Rick Dunetz, a Virginia high school volleyball coach whose mother survived cancer thanks, in part, to the inspiration she received from watching her son coach.

“We sat down and talked, and we told them (the players) the story of Side-Out,” said Olympic coach Keith Peden, whose wife, Susan, is a cancer survivor. “I told them that when Susan had cancer, it was amazing what little things she took courage from. I told them, ‘You know, guys, it could be just one fight — that some lady out there in the stands is struggling to go on and she sees you guys make an extreme effort. That could give her the courage to do something with her life.’”

“We were playing just like our shirts said. We were fighting South Kitsap for those who are fighting cancer.”

South coach Jessica Anderson delivered a similar message to her team prior to the match, and a school counselor who survived breast cancer shared her story with the players.

“All of them had no idea, so having that kind of person share their story, it puts a real face to it,” Anderson said. “It’s a real person, it’s not just a statistic anymore.”

“It was really inspiring, it was really cool to be able to play for a cause,” added South’s Brittany Stepper.

Each member of the South volleyball team raised at least $50, hung posters around town and spread the word about the match. Those efforts generated the sale of about 1,000 DiG PiNK pink T-shirts, which were sold for $5. Nearly everybody who attended the match wore the shirt.

When the idea of a DiG PiNK match originated last spring, Anderson said South ordered 250 T-shirts for the event.

“When it got time to start selling them at the beginning of October, they were just flying out of our ASB office like hot cakes,” she said. “We kept ordering more and more.”

Live and silent auctions as well as donation boxes generated additional funds — the grand total has yet to be released — and Anderson hopes the match becomes tradition. She said there is a chance Olympic could host the event next year.

“Hopefully it’s a ‘yes’ kind of thing so we can trade back and forth,” Anderson said.

On the court, the match didn’t disappoint.

Olympic prevailed with a 3-2 (25-12, 11-25, 25-15, 22-25, 15-11) victory, despite blowing an 18-11 lead in the fourth game. In the fifth game, neither team led by more than four points. But the Trojans took six of the last eight points to break a 9-9 tie and secure the victory.

Chelsea Brustad had a match-high 41 assists for Olympic, while Sam Thornton added 17 kills. Amy Stone posted 29 digs.

“For us, this was a big game. Period,” Peden said. “Going into sub-districts, it was important for us to say, ‘Hey, we can take a 4A school outside of our league, and we can win.’”

South, which looked tentative in the first game before coming back to win the second and fourth, received 10 assists and nine digs from Meagan Ransier. Stepper finished with 10 assists, while Angela Romonsky added 10 digs. Mallory Horch posted a team-high 13 kills.

“They’ve never played in front of a big crowd of people like this, so there probably was a little bit of an intimidation factor because of the crowd size,” Anderson said. “But they figured it out, got used to it a little bit and we went out there and played the game we know how to play.”

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