Lakes Stevens High School volleyball coach Kyle Hoglund still gets emotional when he thinks about the heartbreak his program has gone through over the past two years.
The Vikings fell just short of a Class 4A state title during the 2019 season, losing 3-1 to Tahoma in the state championship match. It was a tough loss that came with the silver lining that Lake Stevens was set to return nearly the entire team for the next season.
The 2019 roster featured a tight-knit group of eight juniors who had been playing together since grade school. Anna Schroedl, then a sophomore, said the first thing on the team’s mind after the championship loss was that next year was going to be their year.
Next year didn’t happen.
The coronavirus pandemic hit and sent high school sports across the country into disarray. The Vikings’ hopes of avenging their state championship game loss were swept away when the fall season was canceled. Instead, Lake Stevens played a short spring season with no playoffs to strive for.
“Having to tell those girls it was over … it was hard,” Hoglund said. “There was probably 10 to 12 of us on a Zoom call. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the (chat). It’s hard when you gotta take someone’s dream away that way.”
Two years later, Lake Stevens is finally getting its shot at making another run at a state title. The third-seeded Vikings (16-1) face No. 14 West Valley (Yakima) in the first round 4A state volleyball tournament at 8:45 a.m. Friday at Yakima Valley SunDome.
Lake Stevens’ long-awaited return has been led by a group of mostly new faces after much of the 2019 team graduated. All but two of the team’s players are in their first or second year on varsity. But there’s still plenty of motivation left from the disappointment of last season.
“I think it really taught us that an opportunity can be taken away,” junior Hayli Tri said. “It’s really created this sense of working hard, staying motivated and remembering what’s important. I think it really has driven us to be the team that we are the season.”
The team that Lake Stevens has been this season is a dominant one. The Vikings started their campaign 16-0, claimed their fifth straight Wesco 4A title and made it to the 4A Wes-King Bi-District Tournament title game.
Eight of the team’s 16 wins came against state qualifying teams in 4A and 3A, including a 3-1 regular season victory over 4A top-seeded Bothell. The Vikings’ only loss was a rematch with Bothell in the bi-district title game.
Lake Stevens has been getting it done with a balanced effort. Five different players average at least 1.6 kills per set, led by 2.9 from junior Isabella Christensen. Four more average at least 1.4 digs per frame.
Hoglund said he knew the team had talent coming into the season. The focus in the offseason was how to bring that talent together into one cohesive unit. As a whole, the team hadn’t played together much. There were still plenty of seniors in front of them in the spring and the season was just nine games.
But it didn’t take long for the team find its groove. Schroedl and Tri said grinding through offseason workouts in the hot summer months helped bring the squad close.
Hoglund saw the chemistry continue to build as the team started racking up strong wins early in the season while developing in trust in each other’s games.
“To have this group come together and play the way they have during this season,” Hoglund said, “… I just think it’s a testimony to them as players.”
The Lake Stevens coach said that last season’s group of seniors also had a big impact on this run. Before the shortened spring season, he challenged them to leave a legacy behind, which included showing the upcoming group the work it took in practice to be a state contending team.
Hoglund’s former players have continued to check in to see how the Vikings are doing this fall.
“We always preach about family,” Hoglund said. “Family isn’t just for the four years in high school. It continues on.”
Coming into the season the Vikings felt they could get back to the state tournament with their new group, but they weren’t sure how deep of a run they could make. After a near-perfect run to state, Lake Stevens thinks its ready to contend for a title once again.
“I think every single girl on this team has some insane motivation and strength inside of them,” Tri said. “I know everybody on this team is all in, and it’s really great to know that I can count on every single one of them to perform.”