Lake Stevens’ Bella Christensen, right, attempts a kill with Arlington’s Caitlin Klein, left, and Cadynce Knudson blocking Sept. 9 at Arlington High School. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Lake Stevens’ Bella Christensen, right, attempts a kill with Arlington’s Caitlin Klein, left, and Cadynce Knudson blocking Sept. 9 at Arlington High School. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Prep volleyball season preview: Teams and players to watch

A look at the area’s top squads and athletes on the volleyball court this fall.

With the high school volleyball season underway, here’s a look at some of the top local teams and players to watch this fall.

TEAMS TO WATCH

Archbishop Murphy

The Wildcats rebounded from a 2-7 record in the COVID-shortened spring by posting a 15-6 record last fall, including a 12-3 mark in Wesco 3A/2A play. Murphy won 39 sets while dropping just 13 in league matches and fell only one win shy of qualifying for its first Class 2A state tournament since 2016. The Wildcats are tasked with replacing a pair of first-team all-league picks in outside hitter Madison Nguyen and libero Megan McReynolds, but they return first-team setter/opposite hitter Alisha Nichols, a senior, and honorable mention Tatum Gill, a sophomore outside hitter. Murphy’s roster features a mix of youth and experience, with five seniors, two juniors and six sophomores. The Wildcats, who are 2-0 with both wins coming in straight sets, appear to be poised to compete in Wesco 3A/2A again this fall.

Arlington

Arlington’s Chloe Lewis, facing, leads a cheer for a point against Lake Stevens on Sept. 9 at Arlington High School. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Arlington’s Chloe Lewis, facing, leads a cheer for a point against Lake Stevens on Sept. 9 at Arlington High School. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

No program in Snohomish County has had as much recent success as the Eagles at the 3A level. Arlington earned a program-best sixth-place finish at the state tournament in 2019 and repeated that feat last fall. The team also claimed its second straight Wesco 3A/2A title, finishing 14-1 in league play and 20-5 overall. All 14 of the Eagles’ league victories came in straight sets, with the lone loss coming in a five-set thriller with rival Stanwood. Arlington has plenty of firepower to replace with three first-team all-league picks from last season graduating, including all-state selections Emily Mekelburg and Taylor Pederson. Senior libero Chloe Lewis, a first-team all-league selection and all-state honorable mention, highlights the returning talent for a squad that features 10 seniors. The Eagles have had a tough 1-2 start this fall, but their losses have come to quality opponents Lake Stevens and Snohomish. Tuesday’s clash with Stanwood presents another early challenge and a chance to earn an important league victory.

Darrington

After falling one win shy of the state tournament in 2018 and 2019, the Loggers broke through last fall, ending a five-year drought that followed a stretch of nine playoff berths over 10 seasons from 2007-16. Darrington has produced a .500 record or better in each of the past five full-length seasons and is off to a strong 3-1 start in 2022. The Loggers have big shoes to fill with the departures of all-state setter Alyvia Wright and all-state honorable mention Rainee Nations. The program graudated four seniors in total, which could have a huge impact at the 1B level, but Darrington’s roster still features plenty of upperclassmen with three seniors and six juniors. The Loggers were never far from reaching the state during their brief hiatus from the postseason. After making state in their first full season following a drop from 2B to 1B, Darrington could be set up to start another run of postseason appearances.

Jackson

The Timberwolves went 13-9 last season en route to their first 4A state tournament berth since 2017. Jackson has been a consistent challenger in Wesco 4A behind perennial title-winner Lake Stevens. Over the past four full-length seasons, the Timberwolves are 34-16 in league play and the only remaining Wesco 4A team to have beaten the Vikings during the span (Monroe, now in 3A, also beat Lake Stevens during that time). Jackson has a pair of first-team all-league selections to replace, but brings back first-teamer Lutali Aaliyah, a senior setter, and second-teamer Reece Nelson, a senior outside hitter. The team looks primed to push for the postseason again this fall after a 4-1 start, with all four victories coming in straight sets. The only loss is a season-opening three-set loss to defending 4A state champion Bothell. Matchups with Lake Stevens, including the season finale, could hold major title implications in Wesco 4A.

Lake Stevens

The Lake Stevens bench cheers after a timeout Arlington in the second set of a match Sept. 6 at Arlington High School. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The Lake Stevens bench cheers after a timeout Arlington in the second set of a match Sept. 6 at Arlington High School. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The Vikings have been the gold standard for prep volleyball programs in the area in recent years. Lake Stevens has won five consecutive Wesco 4A titles, made the past five state tournaments and claimed state trophies in the past three. That included a second-place finish in 2019. The Vikings also haven’t lost to a team in Snohomish County since 2019 and sport a 48-4 overall record over the past three seasons. Lake Stevens graduated only one of its five all-league selections from 2021, with first-teamers Bella Chirstensen, Hayli Tri and Alyss Kelly and second-teamer Peri Hoshock all returning. With so much talent coming back, the Vikings look like a legitimate state-title contender again this fall. They’ll certainly be battle-tested by the time the postseason rolls around. Lake Stevens is 3-2 through five matches while playing a challenging non-league slate that’s included four state playoff teams already. Perhaps its toughest challenge still lies ahead with defending 4A champion Bothell on the schedule next Wednesday.

Shorecrest

The Scots appeared to have a good shot at reaching their first state tournament since 2008 last season when they entered the four-bid 3A Distrcit 1 tournament with the No. 5 seed, but an upset loss to rival Shorewood in the first round kept the team from reaching that milestone. Shorecrest finished 13-7 overall and 11-4 in Wesco 3A/2A play, which was the program’s first winning season since 2014. The Scots graduated their only all-league selection from last season, but bring back a trio of honorable mentions in senior Maria Alvarez and juniors Violet Burchak and Ally Johnson. The team is off to a strong 4-1 start early this season, with all four wins coming in straight sets. Shorecrest might not carry the clout of some of the league’s perennial contenders, but don’t be surprised if the Scots hang around in the league-title chase throughout the season.

Snohomish

Snohomish’s Kelsey Nichols attemps a kill against Arlington on Sept. 29, 2021, at Arlington High School. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Snohomish’s Kelsey Nichols attemps a kill against Arlington on Sept. 29, 2021, at Arlington High School. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The Panthers have been one of the most consistent programs in the area for years. Snohomish has secured four straight state berths and always seems to be in the hunt for a league championship, last claiming a Wesco 3A/2A title in 2018. The Panthers already look to have an early upper hand in the league after taking down two-time defending champion Arlington in four sets last week, and Snohomish entered Tuesday with the only 3-0 mark in Wesco 3A/2A play. The Panthers graduated a pair of all-league selections from 2021, including all-state honorable mention Anneke Hanson. They bring back all-league second-teamer Liviya Harrison, a senior outside hitter, and honorable mention Kelsey Nichols, a junior, to lead an experienced roster that features five seniors and four juniors. With the victory over Arlington already under its belt, Snohomish assumes the role as league favorite.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Barrett Anderson, sr., OH, Stanwood

Stanwood’s Barrett Anderson goes up for a spike during a match on Oct. 21, 2021, at Stanwood High School. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Stanwood’s Barrett Anderson goes up for a spike during a match on Oct. 21, 2021, at Stanwood High School. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Anderson is a returning first-team All-Wesco 3A/2A outside hitter who helped lead the Spartans to the 3A state tournament and District 1 tournament title game. She averaged 3.4 kills and 2.7 digs per set.

Bella Christensen, sr., OH, Lake Stevens

Christensen earned first-team All-Wesco 4A honors as an outside hitter and helped the Vikings win a Wesco 4A title and place seventh at the state tournament last fall. The Air Force Academy commit averaged 3.0 kills per frame with a .259 hitting percentage.

Liviya Harrison, sr., OH, Snohomish

Harrison is a returning second-team All-Wesco 3A/2A outside hitter who aided the Panthers in their run to the 2021 state tournament. She posted 2.9 digs, 2.1 kills and 0.6 aces per set.

Alyss Kelly, jr., L, Lake Stevens

Kelly earned an all-state honorable mention and a first-team All-Wesco 4A nod while helping the Vikings secure a Wesco 4A title and seventh-place state trophy last season. She averaged 2.3 digs per set.

Chloe Lewis, sr., L, Arlington

Lewis received an all-state honorable mention and first-team All-Wesco 3A/2A honors while helping the Eagles claim their second straight league title and sixth-place state trophy last fall. She averaged 3.2 digs per frame and had a massive 44-dig performance against Snohomish last week.

Aaliyah Lutali, sr., S, Jackson

Lutali earned an all-state honorable mention and a first-team All-Wesco 4A selection while helping the Timberwolves reach the 4A state tournament last season. The setter dished out 4.7 assists and added 1.1 digs and 0.5 aces per set.

Alisha Nichols, sr., S/OPP, Archbishop Murphy

Nichols is a returning first-team All-Wesco 3A/2A pick who helped the Wildcats come just one win away from reach the 2A state tournament last season. She posted 5.9 assists, 2.1 digs and 0.5 kills per set.

Hayli Tri, sr., MB, Lake Stevens

Tri is a returning first-team all-state middle blocker and first-team All-Wesco 4A pick who helped lead the Vikings to a Wesco 4A title and seventh-place state trophy in 2021. The Western Washington University commit averaged 1.8 kills and 1.1 blocks per frame.

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