Adia Weighter, center, leads the team in a cheer before the end of their last official practice before heading to the state tournament on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Adia Weighter, center, leads the team in a cheer before the end of their last official practice before heading to the state tournament on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

‘Fighting spirit’ lifts Lynnwood to state volleyball berth

With a pair of bounce-back wins in the district tournament, the Royals reached state for the first time since 2003.

BOTHELL — It may not have been the moment the Lynnwood High School volleyball team officially clinched, but the Royals’ victory over the Oak Harbor Wildcats in the 3A District 1 Tournament was the match when Lynnwood truly broke its long state tournament drought.

With their season one set away from coming to an end, the Royals found the mental fortitude to overcome not only a 2-1 deficit, but 19 years of history to rally from behind and defeat the Wildcats last Thursday at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in a loser-out contest.

Lynnwood didn’t officially punch its ticket to state until two days later, when the Royals swept Monroe. But it was the victory over Oak Harbor that affirmed that this Lynnwood team was worthy of being the schools’ first state qualifier since 2003.

“Honestly, I’m so excited about going to state,” junior middle blocker and first-team All-Wesco 3A/2A selection Hannah Johnson said. “I think it’s going to be a really good experience for our team, and it put everything into perspective for us last Thursday when we won our game.”

Hannah Johnson, center, spikes the ball during practice at Lynnwood High School on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Hannah Johnson, center, spikes the ball during practice at Lynnwood High School on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Lynnwood opens the Class 3A state tournament, which takes place Thursday and Friday at the Yakima Valley SunDome, Thursday morning with a match against Auburn Riverside. It will be the first time the Royals set foot on a state court since placing seventh at the 2003 3A tournament.

It’ll be an experience familiar to Lynnwood coach Annalise Mudaliar, who knows a thing or two about ending long state droughts with Lynnwood volleyball. Mudaliar was the setter when the Royals reached the state tournament in 2000, ending a drought that stretched to 1979.

Head coach Annalise Mudaliar talks to her team during practice on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Head coach Annalise Mudaliar talks to her team during practice on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

“It’s a full-circle moment for me,” Mudaliar said. “We’ve had a really strong program for 10 years, and to finally knock the wall down and get over whatever was holding us back from taking a step forward, it’s very emotional. I’m so dang proud of these kids. The Lynnwood demographic does not have a lot of club kids or a lot of money to play volleyball, but you will not find a more hard-working group of kids.”

Despite being nearly two decades since Lynnwood last reached state, Mudaliar predicted this moment. When she first saw the current junior class, which includes Johnson, first-team All-Wesco outside hitter Paige Gessey and second-team All-Wesco setter Charlie Thomas, as eighth graders, she identified them as the the group that would take the Royals to state.

Paige Gessey digs the ball during practice on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Paige Gessey digs the ball during practice on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

With senior outside hitters Kalyani Blackwell and Gracie Kouthong adding leadership, the expectation was laid down on Day 1 that this would be the year to end the drought.

“Right off the bat coach said this team will go to state,” Blackwell said. “It was like a prophesy. We were like, ‘Wow, she has so much faith in us.’ At first we were a little nervous about it, it felt like a weight on our shoulders.”

Lynnwood had a good regular season, finishing 12-3 in Wesco play. But the Royals were missing that defining moment. They nearly had it in their regular season finale against league-champion Snohomish, but couldn’t hold on after building a 2-0 lead. Then at districts they felt the weight of the moment as they dropped a 3-1 result to Ferndale to set up the loser-out match against Oak Harbor.

Lynnwood came out fired up against Oak Harbor, rolling in the first set and building a substantial lead in the second. However, the Wildcats rallied to win the second, then took the third, and Mudaliar acknowledged that the Royals hadn’t been a come-from-behind team.

But with their season on the line, something clicked for the Royals that allowed them to relieve the weight from their shoulders. They won the fourth, then in a competitive fifth Lynnwood was leading 12-11 when Johnson rotated back into the game on the front row. Johnson proceeded to score the next three points to send the Royals into wild celebrations.

Charlie Thomas, left, and Hannah Johnson, right, laugh together before the start of a drill during practice on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Charlie Thomas, left, and Hannah Johnson, right, laugh together before the start of a drill during practice on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

“We basically knew we could go to state after that game,” Johnson said. “After the last point of the fifth set we all rushed onto the court to hug each other. It was a relief. We’d pushed through and were going to make it to where we wanted to go.”

Having overcome the mental block, Lynnwood rolled to a three-set sweep against Monroe to clinch their state spot.

Lynnwood (15-5) was seeded 14th among 20 teams for the 3A state tournament, meaning the Royals will have to win a loser-out match in order to get into the double-elimination portion of the bracket. Lynnwood faces No. 19 Auburn Riverside (12-9) at 9:45 a.m. Thursday, with the winner advancing to face No. 3 Peninsula in the round of 16 later in the day.

So what are the goals for a team playing at state for the first time in 19 years?

“The fact that we’re got there is proof that we did what we said we were going to do,” Blackwell said. “That’s a whole victory in itself. But we also have the goal to give it our all and play with everything we’ve learned and developed throughout the season. We do have this winning mentality, yes we want to go and win it all. But at the same time we’re going to humble ourselves and know there’s going to be some really good teams. But we’re not going to shy away from the fact that we can do as well as any other team on any given day. We have the fighting spirit, we’re going to work on what we’ve been working on and continue to improve, and we’re going to take in the experience of being at state.”

An experience the Royals have been waiting a long time for.

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