Last season’s trip back to the 3A state volleyball tournament marked a big stepping stone in the gradual reemergence of the Lynnwood High School volleyball program.
The Royals ended a 20-year drought last season and many years of being square in the district playoff hunt as they clinched a state berth for the first time since 2003.
This fall, Lynnwood has more than backed up its early season prowess as one the frontrunners in the Wesco 3A/2A division and a favorite to return to the Yakima Valley SunDome in November for a second consecutive year.
The Royals (6-0, 4-0) were ranked 3rd in the state for Class 3A in the latest Washington State Volleyball Coaches Association coaches poll. They’re also currently ranked 2nd in the WIAA RPI rankings.
For head coach Annalise Mudaliar, who’s in her 11th season at the helm and a Lynnwood High graduate, the success has been an expected component from the current group. Mudaliar helped Lynnwood end another lengthy state drought as a player in 2000, where the Royals clinched a spot for the first time since 1979.
“These are girls who’ve been playing together for quite a long time,” Mudaliar said. “The thing about them is they’re not content. They got a taste of what state was like last year, and the group as a whole knows what they can do, and they want to do something special. … They just want to work hard, and they want to do it the right way.”
The returning senior trio of all-league picks Hannah Johnson, Paige Gessey and Charlie Thomas were all instrumental in last season’s push into the postseason. The Royals finished 17-7 and 12-3 in league play and claimed the 14th seed at state with a sweep over Monroe at the District 1 tournament, following a come-from-behind 3-2 elimination victory over Oak Harbor. They placed ninth at state, knocking out league opponent Snohomish in a five-set match before bowing out to Kelso in the eighth-place game.
“It was surreal,” Johnson said. “We almost couldn’t believe it. We had set goals for ourselves at the beginning of the season together, and coach asked us: ‘What are our goals?’ We all said district champs or to go undefeated, then she asked: ‘How about state?’”
“We just kept that goal, and we kept working towards it, reminding ourselves about it, and then it finally happened.”
Before surviving through districts in 2022, Lynnwood had come up just short in several prior loser-out scenarios. In 2021, the Royals lost in five sets to Everett. In 2019, it was Edmonds-Woodway who knocked them out 3-0, and in 2018, Snohomish kept the Royals from another elusive state berth, taking down Lynnwood in four sets.
“We’ve had some phenomenal teams in the past,” Mudaliar said. “We haven’t missed the playoffs the entire time I’ve been here, we’ve always been competitive, we just needed to get over that hump. I can’t tell you how many years we’ve been in the winner-to-state, loser-out match, and we were on the losing end of those matches. But, This group took it to the next level, and they did it by knocking that wall down.”
Johnson, a 5-foot-10 middle blocker, had a breakout junior season, earning first-team All-Wesco and second-team All-Area honors with averages of 2.75 kills, 0.45 aces and 1.15 blocks per set.
Gessey, an outside hitter, led the Royals with a team-best 3.02 kills per set, adding 0.45 blocks, 0.69 aces and 2.3 digs. She was also a first-team all-league choice. Thomas, a second-team all-league setter, offered 8.26 assists, 0.57 aces and 0.7 kills per set.
Returning junior outside hitter Sammy Holmer, who held 2022 season numbers of 2.52 kills, 2.2 digs and 0.87 aces, has also been firmly in the mix this fall. Sophomore Makena Kaleo, who added four kills in Lynnwood’s 3-0 sweep over Mountlake Terrace on Tuesday, has helped equip the Royals with another outside-hitting option.
Johnson says that the long-standing, seven-player senior core and key contributions from some of the Royals underclassmen have helped the group off to a convincing undefeated start.
“I think it’s the fact that we’re coming out strong and sweeping these teams,” Johnson said. “I think that gives us even more confidence in our mindset and ability to just go and get it done. Last year, we kinda messed around sometimes, lost a couple games, and took some games to five sets that didn’t need to go there. We’ve had our heads on straight. We want to get what we need and get it done.”
Lynnwood has yet to lose a set this season, sweeping all six matches, including wins over Shorewood (5-1), Jackson (2-2) and Kamiak (5-1).
“For this group, the sky’s the limit,” Mudaliar said. “We know we’re playing good volleyball right now, but we know there’s things to work on. So, we’re excited for those other matches down the road that we’re going to have that will give us the chance to elevate our game even more.”