2A Volleyball Teams Vying for Chance at State
STATE: W.F. West Hopes to Reach Tournament for First Time in School History
By Matt Baide
The Evergreen 2A Conference is a tough landscape to emerge from onto the state tournament scene, and Centralia, Rochester and W.F. West will all be hoping to get to St. Martin’s University in November.
The last time any of the three teams went to state was 2011, when Centralia finished eighth.
Centralia lost a few key players from last season’s team, but finished in a tie with Black Hills for second in the EvCo and will try to get back to the playoff hunt in a tough league led by defending state champ Tumwater — and Gonzaga commit Kennedy Croft, last year’s Gatorade Washington Volleyball Player of the Year, not to mention the EvCo MVP.
District 4 also features state runner-up Woodland and Ridgefield, which took sixth last year.
“It’s hard when your district finishes first, third and sixth,” Centralia coach Neil Sharp said. “The league prepares us to do battle once we get down there (districts). If we get a couple breaks and stay healthy, I have a lot of faith in this team. Of course, we have to earn it; we have to make sure we continue to get better throughout the season.”
Centralia was 8-8 overall last year, with a 7-3 league record.
“We have some solid pieces this year,” Sharp said. “Our starting core is going to be pretty tough.”
The team lost a few key seniors, but new senior Tigers McKenna Smith and Danika Jensen now lead the way. Along with Joelle Mettler and Rachel Wilkerson, the starting lineup will have a plethora of experience.
And while it’s been a few years since the Centralia’s last trip to state, Sharp believes his team can finally get back to the big tournament.
“State is always our ultimate goal. We want to enjoy the journey throughout, we have some goals in league, districts. We like to aim high, we think that gives us a better chance at success,” Sharp said. “We just have to make sure our actions match our goals. If that happens, a lot of good things will happen this season for us.”
Across town, the Bearcats might be the most improved team from a year ago. Second-year coach Emily Mora finds herself with a good mix of athletic players that have had a year to get used to her coaching style.
“The varsity team looks really good. I think it’s a bit more relaxed since it’s my second season with them,” Mora said. “The girls know my expectations, my style of volleyball. It seems a lot more like an overdue reunion more than ‘let’s see what we got.’ We’ve been putting a ton of work in in our offseason, so I’m really looking forward to seeing come to fruition.”
The family atmosphere around the program has brought the team together. From attending Mora’s wedding to throwing coach (Amanda) Andersen a baby shower and a trip east for camp, the Bearcats have become a close-knit group.
“It was fun. We took the group over to Pullman and so that’s a long car ride, and you really get to know your teammates in the car ride,” Mora said. “That family culture, where it’s safe to be yourself, is starting to lend itself to seeing how diverse, how dynamic, how amazing my girls are, because they’re not in their shell, they’re feeling really excited about stuff. It’s nice.”
The team lost a few key seniors, but there are two seniors along with a group of juniors — including Makenzie Moore, an All-League first-team pick — that will lead the Bearcats this season.
“This school has never been to volleyball state in the history of the school, and that’s something I feel that is extremely attainable this year, especially with the group of girls I’ve got going,” Mora said. “They know that statistic. They know that this is their chance, and they can be a part of this. Because state title or not, they are going to be that icebreaker team that made it to the state tournament for volleyball. People are going to go ‘Where’s W.F. West, we’ve never seen them before.’ I think this year could be the year.”
Rochester is hoping to get back on a winning track this season. Winless in 10 league games last season, the Warriors are trying to get into contention in the EvCo with juniors Lexie Jones-Sederberg and Paige Winter both back in the lineup.
Centralia will host Rochester on Tuesday in the Centralia jamboree to kick off the season.
“On Tuesday, we want to see what we look like against teams who are in different color jerseys,” Sharp said. “It’s always nice to get some good measuring sticks and a variety of teams to challenge us in different ways. We’re always seeing what are those areas that we can improve on.”
The Tigers will then host the Centerville Tournament next Saturday. Rochester will host Toledo the day after the jamboree, followed by traveling to Eatonville on Thursday before playing in the Centerville tournament.
W.F. West opens the season hosting Montesano next Tuesday before their first road match of the season against R.A. Long.
“I think it’s going to be very tough,” Mora said. “I think the top three are going to be who’s going to show up on what day at what game and I’m excited. I feel like we’re part of that.”