Purchase Photo Reprint Weekly Herald/CHRIS GOODENOW
Edmonds School District seniors, Lynnwood's Blake Lord (from right), Mountlake Terrace's Stuart Milner and Edmonds-Woodway's Justin Jolly were selected by the school district as athletes of the year.
Tsuji earned first-team honors as a setter for volleyball. Lord was a second-team, all-league quarterback for football and a second-team, all-league infielder for baseball.
But Lynnwood High School's athletes of the year offered more than stellar individual performances. Lord and Tsuji also provided much needed leadership for their respective teams.
Lord helped guide the Royals football team to three victories, the most the school has won in about a decade.
“We had a lot support from parents, students and the faculty,” Lord said. “I felt like we were really close. We had great chemistry on the team.”
As for being the focal point of the offense, Lord said he embraced the role.
“I've always been a quarterback,” he said. “I know what to expect and how to lead my teammates and get support from my teammates.”
Football taught him how to be a better baseball player and a better person in general, Lord added.
He said he sees a good leader as someone who leads by example and who is a good listener.
“You also have to be able to talk to the players and understand how they are feeling and where they are coming from,” Lord said. “Being a captain and not the coach, you can approach them on a more personal level.”
After considering playing both football and baseball at a different school, Lord decided to focus on baseball at St. Martin's University in Lacey, a Division II school. He also liked the school's engineering program.
“Baseball is my passion,” Lord said. “I like how it can be considered an individual and a team sport. You rely on your teammates but you also have to pull through.”
College has been a longtime goal of Lord's. Lord's grandparents went to college but his parents did not. His father, Jeff, actually had the opportunity but decided not to.
“My whole life they've been telling me, 'You're going to go to college. You're going to do this,'” Lord said. “There's been no doubt.”
Lord welcomed what he viewed as a good kind of pressure.
“Everything I work for has a reason,” he said. “It's (college) a good goal to strive for when you've spent all the long nights and early mornings working.”
Lord is planning to study engineering. He enjoyed math classes and likes that some of the work involved in engineering is done outdoors.
“I feel like those two things factored into what I want to major in,” he said.
Lord will miss Lynnwood and his brother, Hunter, with whom he played football the last two years.
“He's a great teammate. We've always been able to talk about things and discuss sports,” Lord said. “He's my best friend. It's really brought us closer together.”
Much of Jennifer Tsuji's life was shaped by volleyball. She started playing the sport as a girl at the Alderwood Boys and Girls Club. In seventh grade, her middle school coach decided Tsuji had the skills to be a setter.
“I've stuck with it ever since,” she said. “It's been my life for the past six years. It's taught me a lot about hard work. ... It's helped my character and work ethic and just getting along with people.”
This year's team featured five seniors and all five served different roles on the team. Tsuji was the floor captain.
“All the seniors worked really well together,” she said. “Each had a different dynamic. Some were better at practice. Some talked to the coach.”
As the setter, Tsuji helped lead the offense. In many respects, the setter is similar to the role the quarterback plays in football.
“The setter is involved in every play,” Tsuji said. “I actually get to call a lot of the plays. It's not as flashy as the quarterback, but it's definitely the same.”
The Royals advanced to the district championship this year but fell short of a state berth.
“It still was a great experience,” Tsuji said.
Tsuji also was on the track and field team, where she competed in the 200, the 400 and 800 relays, and the long jump. Tsuji decided to compete in track and field after her junior year, when she had stopped playing select volleyball, in order to stay in shape and meet new people. Tsuji also was the senior class treasurer and Link crew leader.
This fall Tsuji is headed to the University of Washington and will be looking to find her niche somewhere in the medical field.
“I haven't quite figured that out,” Tsuji said as to where her specific interests lie.
What she was sure about is that she wanted to be a Husky.
“I've always wanted to go to the UW,” Tsuji said. “My dad went there.”
Read about athletes of the year at other Edmonds district high schools in The Weekly Herald Sports section.