Arlington players (from left) Reese Talbot, Mary Catherine Meno and Madison Burkett practice at the school on Wednesday. Arlington will face off against Bellevue in the first round of the 3A state volleyball tournament in Kennewick on Friday. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

State volleyball preview: Arlington creates winning culture

The Arlington volleyball team didn’t have a tradition of success before 2014, when Whitney Williams took over as head coach. So when she walked in front of her team during its first open-gym session and wrote the words ‘state champs’ on a whiteboard, her players, for the most part, thought she was crazy.

But that year, the program started to develop a different culture, and won a Wesco 3A co-championship. The Eagles once again advanced to postseason play last season. And this year, they won Wesco 3A regular-season and 3A District 1 tournament titles to advance to the state tournament, the second appearance in the history of the program and first since 1996.

“Three years ago I started talking with them about the state tournament and state championships and the mindset of being good,” Williams said. “The sophomores, now seniors, started to believe, and there was a huge transformation. During the past three years they’ve changed this program into something amazing, hopefully setting up the start of a winning legacy.”

Williams, who played for Arlington in the early 2000s, came back to her hometown after spending four years as a coach at a Utah school because she relished the opportunity to turn around a program. She’s been able to do that with the help of the Eagles’ seven seniors.

“I could see how talented they were as sophomores, but they hadn’t experienced winning. They needed a winning mentality,” she said. “They’re great girls. They bought into the program and did whatever I asked them to do. They were instrumental in the change of direction. They’ve set the tone. It’s been an amazing season.”

The Eagles (15-2), ranked fifth in the latest Washington State Volleyball Coaches Association 3A state poll, will begin state tournament play against Bellevue at 1:30 p.m. Friday at the Toyota Center in Kennewick.

Here’s a look at other local teams competing in state volleyball tournaments beginning Friday:

Shorewood

At the start of the season, Shorewood just wanted to make the district tournament. As it turns out, the Thunderbirds are heading to the 3A state tournament, where they’ll open against Timberline at 1:30 p.m. Friday.

The young Thunderbirds squad (10-10) had an up-and-down season, but finished strong to place fourth at the 3A District 1 tournament.

“Three-quarters into the season, I made some changes to the lineup, and things started to click together,” said Shorewood coach Jennifer Chartrand. “We began to trust each other, and athletically things began to fall into place. I think (qualifying for state) was a surprise to all of us, but I’m proud of how the girls finished and excited to see what we can do (at state). They’ve already surpassed where we thought we’d be, but we’ll keep pushing. I’d love to see us make it to Saturday, but I just want them to compete and make some great memories.”

Lake Stevens

Lake Stevens will enter the 4A state tournament undefeated, but the 10th-ranked Vikings know they’ll certainly have to play their best volleyball of the season this weekend if they want to make a deep run. Lake Stevens (16-0) will open tournament play at 9:45 a.m. Friday against Auburn Mountainview at the Toyota Center.

“To be unbeaten (at this point in the season) is amazing, but it’s been tough,” Lake Stevens coach Dawn Hanson said last week after the Vikings beat Monroe in the 4A District 1 title match. “To stay undefeated in the playoffs takes a bit of a different approach. We’re just focusing on one match at a time and not looking past anybody. If we do that, good things can happen.”

Earlier this season the Vikings took fifth place at the Kent Classic Tournament, which featured several top 4A teams. That result makes Hanson believe her team can compete with just about anybody this weekend.

Monroe

Monroe (13-4) will begin 4A state tournament play against Kentwood at 8 a.m. Friday.

The Bearcats, who rebounded from a loss to Lake Stevens in the 4A District 1 title game to beat Jackson for a state berth last week, have benefited from solid leadership, according to coach April Munoz.

“The (leaders) push the other kids every day in practice and show an example of how to work hard, and we’ve improved as a unit because of that,” she said. “It’s a group of kind, charitable girls who enjoy each other’s company. They have fun every time they’re in the gym. They’re competing, but they they still care for each other.”

Archbishop Murphy

Archbishop Murphy is considered a favorite to win the 2A tournament, which will be held at Yakima’s SunDome this weekend. The second-ranked Wildcats (18-0) will open state tournament play against Sequim at 11 a.m. Friday.

Archbishop Murphy has obliterated its opponents this season, winning all of its 18 matches. The Wildcats have lost just three sets, and all three of those losses came by two points each.

“We left (the state tournament) disappointed last year (after finishing sixth),” said Archbishop Murphy coach Brandon Rogers. “We felt like we were going to win it. I think this year’s group of kids didn’t want to feel that way again. It started in the summertime. Everyone came back so much better than last year, and they were constantly putting in extra effort to get better. There was a bit of a culture change. This group of seniors has been together since middle school and leads by example.”

Cedar Park Christian (Bothell), South Whidbey, Darrington

Three other local teams will participate in state tournaments at the SunDome this weekend.

In the 1A tournament, Cedar Park Christian (Bothell) will open against Charles Wright Academy at 9:45 a.m. Friday, and South Whidbey will take on LaCenter at 8 a.m. Friday.

The fifth-ranked Eagles (15-6) finished in second place in the Cascade Conference and took third at the 1A District 1-2 tournament.

The Falcons (13-7) finished in fourth place in the Cascade Conference and took fourth at the 1A District 1-2 tournament.

Darrington will open 2B tournament play against Mossyrock at 11:30 a.m. Friday. The Loggers (13-5) finished in second place in the Northwest 2B/1B league and took second at the 2B District 1 tournament.

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