Prior to the 2016 season, the Lake Stevens High School volleyball program had reached the state tournament only once in a quarter-century span.
Since then, the Vikings have made November trips across the Cascade Mountains a yearly tradition.
Lake Stevens is headed to Yakima for its fourth consecutive appearance in the Class 4A state tournament, where the Vikings open with a first-round match Friday morning against Camas in the Yakima Valley SunDome.
It’s been yet another victory-filled campaign for Lake Stevens, which has amassed a 69-8 record over the past four seasons. The Vikings are coming off their fourth consecutive Wesco 4A title, having posted a combined 54-2 conference mark over this four-year run of success.
“It’s a testimony to the girls, because it seems like every year it’s kind of a new set of girls that make it happen,” Lake Stevens coach Kyle Hoglund said.
Indeed, the Vikings’ ability to reload year after year has been a common theme in recent seasons.
After reaching state in 2016 for just the second time in 27 years, Lake Stevens graduated three All-Wesco 4A players. But the Vikings overcame those departures the following season, making it back to state in 2017.
Then after graduating three more all-conference selections from that 2017 squad — including current Seattle University player Lilly Eason — Lake Stevens returned to state again last year and claimed a seventh-place trophy.
The Vikings endured more losses to graduation after last season, bidding farewell to another three all-league players. But once again, others stepped up to fill the voids.
“It’s fun to watch the girls create a legacy,” Hoglund said after his team clinched a state berth last week. “… These players have learned from girls before (them) of how to work with each other, what that looks like, how to encourage each other and how to hold them accountable at the same time. It’s fun to watch, and it’s fun to be a part of.”
Lake Stevens (16-1) has swept 13 of its 17 matches this season and won 49 of 56 sets, excluding a pair of September tournaments. The junior-laden Vikings claimed the 4A Wes-King Bi-District title last week, beating KingCo 4A champion North Creek in the championship match.
Lake Stevens also fared well in those two early-season tournaments, sweeping their way to the Kent Classic title and placing second behind Tahoma in the 64-team Linda Sheridan Volleyball Classic in Spokane.
“We have a unique group of juniors who are talented, fun, humble players all at the same time,” said Hoglund, who’s in his third season as head coach after spending the previous nine seasons as an assistant in the program. “They have embraced the moment of stepping into those roles and have done a great job with it.
“But also, I would say it was a great thing for the seniors who graduated last year to kind of hand the torch off correctly — empowering these girls … (to) go make your legacy.”
The Vikings are led by standout outside hitter Samaya Morin, a returning first-team all-conference player who averages 3.8 kills and 2.3 digs per set, along with a .418 hitting percentage. Hoglund said in addition to Morin’s elite talent, the hard-hitting junior has played an instrumental role this season by taking on increased leadership responsibilities.
“Samaya is a very talented player all the way around,” Hoglund said. “It’s been fun to watch her grow from a freshman till now. … Whether it’s the emotional support to the encore vocal leader of what needs to happen, she’s definitely rose to the occasion.”
Complementing Morin is junior outside hitter Tatum Smith, who averages 2.1 kills and 2.2 digs per frame.
“Tatum is a totally different style of player than Samaya, so that’s kind of fun in the fact that she’s not so much a power hitter, but a placement hitter,” Hoglund said. “She does have power behind it, but in a different kind of style. The game goes so slow for her in her brain. She sees things and reacts to things and plays a great defensive game.”
Karli Tri, a junior, moved from outside hitter to middle hitter last season and quickly developed into a strong player at her new position. Tri averages 1.8 kills and 0.6 blocks per set and is committed to play volleyball at Western Washington University.
“That’s been a fun story to watch,” Hoglund said. “Last year (at) the beginning of the high school season was the first time she’d ever played middle hitter. She took that and ran with that, accepted it and has become a huge asset.”
“She got so good so fast,” Morin added.
Maddie Iseminger, also a junior middle hitter, adds 1.5 kills and 0.5 blocks per set.
“She just controls the net really well … (and) puts the ball in places it needs to go,” Hoglund said. “(She is) steady and calm. Nothing seems to faze her.”
Another junior with an increased role this season is setter Michelle Fast. After splitting setting duties last year, Fast has taken sole ownership of the position this season while providing 7.7 assists per frame.
“Michelle has really stepped into a big role this year for us, being our only setter,” Hoglund said. “She has made great steps. … It’s one of the thankless jobs, being a setter. If you don’t have a good setter, then nobody else does their job.”
Piper Smith has made the biggest leap in contributions. After playing primarily on the junior-varsity team last year, the junior took over as the Vikings’ libero this season. She averages 2.8 digs per set and has been key to the team’s success.
“To step into the role she’s in, that’s a big step,” Hoglund said. “That’s not just one step up the ladder — that’s going to the top of the ladder.”
“She really came up and just played at a whole new level,” Morin added. “She just improved her game so much. … We’re really proud to see her and where she’s come to.”
Buoyed by players who’ve stepped into new or increased roles, Lake Stevens enters state as a balanced team looking to make noise.
“We all bring different strengths, and I think that’s one of the coolest things about this team,” Tri said. “Each person is completely different. … We have a very well-rounded team, and I think that’s going to help us a lot in state.”
“We’re so excited,” Morin added. “We want to win so bad. … We’re just super excited and just can’t wait to get there.”