MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — A season ago, the Mountlake Terrace volleyball team breezed through its nonleague schedule, winning its first six matches of the season.
The Hawks won just one match the rest of the way, finishing 1-7 in league play, 7-7 overall and missing the district tournament for the second consecutive season.
After dropping their first two matches in straight sets to Meadowdale and Marysville Pilchuck to start this season, the Hawks appeared to be headed toward a similar fate.
The team met and discussed its goals and, much like last year, the Hawks’ season took a dramatic turn — this time for the better.
Since the 0-2 start, Mountlake Terrace has lost just one match, finishing the season 8-1 in league and 11-3 overall. The Hawks finished tied with Meadowdale for the Wesco 3A regular-season championship and earned the No. 1 postseason berth based on head-to-head competition against the Mavericks.
“I was a little bit apprehensive of what kind of a season we could have (after losing the first two matches),” Mountlake Terrace head coach Marietta Snyder said. “The girls really refocused and they talked about what their goal was. We revisited that again and they decided that 0-2 wasn’t exactly where they wanted to be. They’re the ones that actually fought to get this thing turned around.”
The Hawks open the 3A District 1 Tournament today against Glacier Peak.
After such a promising start in 2012, the Hawks’ quick decline caught them off guard and they were unable to right the ship. Snyder said they weren’t prepared to go down the same road this season.
“It really kind of stunned the team a little bit,” Snyder said. “This year when we started out 0-2, it just left a bad taste. I thought, ‘Gosh, we don’t want to do this again.’ So they decided that wasn’t what they wanted to do, so here we are.”
The team started working harder in practice, the defense improved dramatically and the wins started to come. The Hawks won their next five matches and dropped just one set in the process. They beat Edmonds-Woodway, which ultimately would win the Wesco 4A regular-season title, and they swept Marysville Pilchuck to avenge their earlier season loss to the Tomahawks.
“I think we’re really close as a team,” senior setter Justine Kelly said. “You can tell when you watch us play that we’re really close as a team. We trust each other and we cover each other. I think that’s a big difference from last year is that we’re all really comfortable with each other and actually play like a team.”
The Hawks had learned how to win as a team and it showed as they entered the toughest part of their league schedule, facing Everett, Stanwood and Meadowdale in the span of one week in the middle of October. They started the week with a five-set victory over Everett, one of just two league losses for the Seagulls, and they finished the week with a five-set victory over Meadowdale, the Mavericks’ only league loss.
In the middle of those impressive victories, the Hawks suffered a 3-1 loss to Stanwood, their only league loss. The players said the cohesiveness they had played with in the previous games wasn’t there against the Spartans.
“It was an off game,” Kelly said. “We just weren’t there. We tried and tried, but it was just one of those games where you can try and it just doesn’t work. There just wasn’t that connection that you need to be successful.”
Since the loss, the Hawks have won four straight as they head into today’s district tournament opener against the Grizzlies. Despite Glacier Peak’s sub-.500 league record, Snyder expects a tough challenge.
“Their record doesn’t show it, but they have a good team and a tough coach,” Snyder said. “I’m sure he will get them ready. Our next goal is just one game at a time to get through districts.”
The Hawks will rely on the continued leadership of their two senior captains to continue their run, Kelly and outside hitter Madison Eich.
“Madison Eich is a beast,” Snyder said. “She is 100 percent all out all the time.
Snyder added that Kelly, who will soon decide whether she will play volleyball at Concord University in West Virginia or St. Francis University in New York, is very aggressive and a great hitter from the front row to go along with her facilitating her teammates.
But perhaps the Hawks’ biggest strength is they don’t rely solely on one player.
“I think that puts a lot of issues on a team when you have one (player) that is better than everybody else,” Snyder said. “They are all pretty much equally rounded. They can hit pretty well. They can serve pretty well.”
After such a successful regular season, the Hawks are confident as they go into the postseason, but they know the No.1 seed puts a target on their back.
“Since there is a number on us saying that we are number one, that doesn’t mean that somebody couldn’t take that from us,” Eich said. “You have to prove to yourself that you’re number one.”
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at email@example.com.