EVERETT — Regardless of the sport, most high school athletes have the dream of someday playing in a state tournament.
And the heartache comes from missing that dream.
Just ask the members of last year’s Everett High School volleyball team, who came within a whisker of reaching the 2012 Class 3A state tournament. On the final day of the district tourney, Everett met Western Conference rival Glacier Peak in a classic winner-to-state showdown. The two teams split four games before Glacier Peak finally prevailed in a back-and-forth fifth game, 16-14, abruptly ending Everett’s season.
Even now, almost a year later, the memory lingers.
“It was crushing,” said coach Kris Jones, who is in her second season at Everett after previous stints at Cascade and Snohomish. “Watching my team lose like that, it was the toughest loss I’ve ever had as a coach. We were literally two points away from punching our ticket to state.”
The match against Glacier Peak “could’ve gone either way,” recalled setter Tenika Wentworth, now an Everett senior. “We tried as hard as we could, but of course later you think, ‘What could I have done better? What if I didn’t hit that ball in the net? What if I didn’t miss that serve?’ … I was pretty bitter on the state tournament weekend, knowing (that other teams) were at state.”
“It was devastating,” agreed rightside hitter Lauren Stiger, also a senior and, like Wentworth, a Seagulls co-captain this season.
But if the disappointment was severe, the determination to atone was equally strong. Everett graduated five seniors from a year ago, but with seven returning veterans the team began this season with the talent and certainly the motivation to excel.
“They’re out for revenge,” Jones said.
So far, the season is unfolding according to script. Heading into a match with Meadowdale tonight, Everett is 5-1 with wins already against top Wesco 3A rivals Stanwood, Meadowdale and Glacier Peak. The only loss came against Wesco 4A contender Monroe in a non-conference match.
“We have a lot of confidence,” Wentworth said. “I feel like Stanwood, Meadowdale and Glacier Peak are the three hardest teams we’re going to play, and beating them showed we can do it. That raised our confidence even more.”
It is important to point out that Everett is winning, but hardly dominating. Three of the team’s first four victories went to five games, and the fourth was settled in four games. The Seagulls did not pull off a three-game sweep until they beat Arlington last week, and against Stanwood in the opener Everett had to rally from a 0-2 deficit.
“They’ve had a few wins where I’ve been surprised,” Jones admitted. “I was saying, ‘Really? How’d that happen?’ But the one thing I can say about this team is that they don’t give up.”
Joining Wentworth (who has committed to play next season at Hawaii Pacific University) and Stiger as key players for the Seagulls are senior middle blocker Amber Hagar (“She could be an impact player for us,” Jones said) and junior libero Kayla Heman, who missed last season after undergoing knee surgery (“She’s come back like gangbusters and we see improvement from her every day.”).
Looking ahead, the Seagulls need to keep playing well to assure a spot in the two-day district tournament. But at that point, of course, the real work begins.
“I went to state twice when I was coaching at Snohomish, and I know how hard it is to get there,” Jones said. “It’s not just about winning league or even getting second in league. You’ve got to get to districts, and then be on your game those two nights.
“But this team has a lot of potential. They’re all very supportive of each other, they’re all very hard-working, and I feel like we have a lot of the ducks in a row that we’ll need to get to state.”
To Wentworth, going to state “would be like the cherry on top” of her Everett volleyball career. “Our goal has always been to go to state,” she said, “and I want to be able to say that we never gave up until we got what we wanted.”
“State is our ultimate goal,” added Stiger. “And it’d be a huge deal because it’s such an honor to be able to say, ‘Hey, our team went to state.’ I just think it’d be a great way to end my senior year.”