SNOHOMISH — There isn’t much Glacier Peak senior middle blocker Lauren Sanders hasn’t done in her three previous years with the Grizzlies, but the one thing that has eluded her and her teammates is an appearance in the state tournament.
That’s the goal for her final high school season.
“The goal is a state bid,” Sanders said. “That’s what we all really want and that’s what we have in mind for right now.”
The Grizzlies, who moved up from Class 3A to 4A this year, certainly have enough talent to do it, but there is no question that talent is led by the 6-foot-4 Sanders.
“You don’t see too many big kids that have good service weapons and good passing technique,” Glacier Peak head coach Chris Pratt said. “So often they’re pigeon-holed and taken out in the back row. There have been many times where I’ve left Lauren in because she’s a good passer. She’s one of my best serve-receive players. I’ve always let her serve because she has a nice, fast and flat ball. She’s an aggressive server, so there is no way I’m going to let a libero take her serving spot.”
The simple translation to Pratt’s comments is Sanders is about as versatile as they come. She has the talent to play every position on the floor and though she could be a frightening force as an outside hitter, middle blocker is the position she started at with the Grizzlies and it’s where she will finish.
“She likes playing middle,” Pratt said. “I’ve asked her. I think she would be a really good outside (hitter). Sometimes college coaches will encourage a kid to try another position. I think that given enough reps, she would be a good all-around player that wouldn’t have to come off the court.”
Sanders’ height gives her an advantage as a blocker that most high school players don’t have.
“It makes the game easier for her because she has more time to adjust than the rest of us shorties,” Pratt said. “It makes the game easier for her and quicker for her to react to other things that happen on the other side of the net.”
Sanders will garner a lot of attention from fans and opposing teams, but Pratt said in order for the Grizzlies to get back to the state tournament, a place they haven’t been since Sanders was in eighth grade, the entire team needs to click.
“If Lauren’s doing her job, that opens things up for the other kids and if the other kids execute, that makes it easier on Lauren because they can’t just focus on her,” Pratt said. “If the rest of the team doesn’t perform, that puts a little more pressure on her. We’re really emphasizing teamwork this year.”
That said, Sanders’ teammates know who to get the ball to if they’re desperate for a point.
“She’s very valuable,” senior outside hitter Maya Watkins said. “We’ve been taught to feed the ball to Lauren. If we’re ever in trouble, she’s our go-to to get us out of hard situations.”
Glacier Peak has spent its entire eight years of existence as a 3A team, but enrollment numbers increased, moving the Grizzlies to 4A for the next four years. Pratt and his team will have to get used to seeing new teams on the schedule, but they are excited for the opportunity to prove themselves.
“My hope for this season is that Glacier Peak can show the 4A schools that the 3A schools can hold their own,” Pratt said. “Out of respect to my former colleagues in the league, we want to come in and represent 3A and put a little fear in the 4A schools and show them that the 3A number is just a number.”
The Grizzlies should be a playoff team, but just where they finish in the league remains to be seen. Monroe likely will be their biggest challenge. The Bearcats didn’t lose a match last year until the state tournament and return much of their team, with the exception of outside hitter Jessica Clark, who was The Herald’s All-Area Player of the Year last year as a senior.
“I think it’s really exciting,” Sanders said of the move to 4A. “I think we get to play a lot of really good competition.”
Sanders won’t have to go far to continue her volleyball career after graduating from Glacier Peak next summer. She is verbally committed to University of Washington, where she likely will play both indoor volleyball and doubles beach volleyball.
“I visited a lot of schools,” Sanders said. “I talked to places all over the country. I visited mostly Pac-12 schools. The thing that I liked about UW was mostly the coaches. I loved the coaches and my future teammates.
“The fact that it’s close to home wasn’t as important to me as it is now,” Sanders added. “I’m really glad that I get to stay close to my friends and my family. It’s special to play college volleyball in your hometown where people can see you and appreciate that.”
Sanders has played beach doubles for the past two summers mostly for fun, but the Huskies’ recently added a beach program.
“She’s so balanced,” Pratt said. “I know she plays (beach) doubles during the summer. She understands the game really well. Some kids can be really good outdoor players and not play indoor very well at all because there are just too many people on the court and vise-versa. I think Lauren’s strength with her all-around skill gives her the ability to play outdoor.”
Pratt is looking forward to the opportunity to continue to watch his star pupil after he’s done coaching her with the Grizzlies.
“I’m excited to be able to go and watch her play in our backyard and see how she grows,” he said.
Sanders recently made a name for herself on the national level when she made the junior national team, which includes 12 of the best high school players in the country and is only below the collegiate national team and the USA national team, which recently competed in the Olympics in Brazil.
Pratt is entering his 22nd season of coaching high school volleyball. He spent 11 seasons at Woodinville, two seasons coaching in California and this is his ninth season at Glacier Peak. In those 22 years, Sanders is one of the finest players he has ever seen.
“She’s clearly one of the most gifted middles that I’ve ever coached,” Pratt said. “I’ve had kids go on and play in college, but she’s got the whole package. She’s got the physicality and the desire. She’s probably the best middle I’ve ever coached.”