When some of the the best high school volleyball teams in the state meet at the Yakima Valley SunDome for this weekend’s Class 3A and 4A state tournaments, there undoubtedly will be a few squads feeling the pressure of the moment.
The Monroe Bearcats won’t be one of them.
Whether they’re singing their hearts out to “How Far I’ll Go” by Auli’i Cravalho from the “Moana” soundtrack in the hallway before they run out for a match, or dancing on the bench — or even on the court — the Bearcats try to maintain a laid-back attitude that’s translated to success.
“I know when they come out and they’re like that that they’re gonna be on fire,” Monroe coach April Munoz said. “It just shows me that they’re gonna be more relaxed, they’re going to roll with the punches when things aren’t going well.”
Munoz said having such a loose group has been a learning experience for her as a coach this season, but the girls have proven to her that when they’re just out there trying to have a good time, the results are as positive as the team’s vibe.
“Every single game we go out in the hall and just scream our heads off and dance,” senior defensive specialist Meagan Tumy said. “Everybody looks at us, but we don’t care. It just gets us all hyped up. I love it.”
Returning nine players from last year’s varsity team that went 6-11, the Bearcats have seen the benefits of simply playing to have fun.
“We are the type of team that when we’re down on ourselves and if we take things too seriously, we’re just gonna fall apart,” senior defensive specialist Lexi Carpenter said. “We just have to enjoy it.”
The Bearcats (13-4) head into Friday’s 9:45 a.m. first-round matchup with two-time defending Class 4A state champion Auburn-Riverside (13-8) on a tear. They’ve won their past seven games, and it all started with a monumental win over Wesco 4A rival Lake Stevens on Oct. 18. Monroe bested the Vikings 3-2, ending Lake Stevens’ 42-game winning streak against Wesco 4A opponents that was 10 days shy of spanning three full years.
“I think that once we beat Lake (Stevens), we kind of just clicked,” Carpenter said. “We wanted to beat them for so long.”
Munoz said that win was the confidence boost the then-7-4 squad needed to go out and play with the relaxed style that’s keyed its success.
After the victory over the Vikings, Monroe closed the regular season with three more wins and then ran through the inaugural 4A Wes-King Bi-District tournament without dropping a set.
“Going in, I didn’t expect it,” Munoz said of her team’s domination. “I knew we were capable of it, but they just stayed relaxed and kept going.”
The Bearcats opened bi-district play with a win over Eastlake and followed with a victory over a one-loss North Creek team, clinching a berth in the state tournament — although not everyone realized it at the time.
“On the bus on the way home we were just like, ‘Wait. We’re going to state,’” Carpenter said.
“We were just ecstatic,” Tumy added.
But Monroe didn’t settle for just a spot at state. A rubber match with Lake Stevens — which had beaten the Bearcats in straight sets on Sept. 27 — loomed, with the bi-district championship on the line.
Monroe flipped the script from its the first match with the Vikings, claiming a straight-sets victory of its own.
The Bearcats didn’t just collect a championship at the bi-district tournament, they used the chance to face a couple of teams they hadn’t seen before as a learning experience for this weekend, when they’ll do the same against the top teams in 4A.
“The thing that it teaches you is that you’ve got to learn to be flexible in the match and make adjustments within the match,” Munoz said. “The players and the coaches. The coaches need to see it, players need to be able to react, and they’ve showed that they can. It’s great. I’m excited about it.”
The Bearcats will take that experience into the state tournament along with the mindset they’ve had all season: Just go out there, have fun and play volleyball.