With a trip to the Class 4A state championship match on the line, Bella Christensen rose to the occasion and delivered the performance of her career.
The Lake Stevens star outside hitter unleashed an attacking fury on previously unbeaten Puyallup, peppering the tournament’s top-seeded team with a relentless barrage of powerful spikes.
At times, she seemed almost unstoppable.
“That was the best I’ve seen her play in her career,” Lake Stevens coach Kyle Hoglund said. “It was just one of those moments in your sporting career where everything just seemed to slow down and everything seemed so big, like (she) couldn’t miss.”
Christensen finished the match with a whopping 25 kills, powering the Vikings to a four-set state semifinal triumph over title favorite Puyallup.
After the final point, Christensen joined her teammates in a frenzied celebration.
“It was crazy,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘There’s no way this is real.’ I kept thinking, ‘I’m gonna wake up from all this.’ It was so surreal. We were all so happy.
“It was an amazing moment that I’ll never forget.”
Christensen’s spectacular state semifinal performance was part of a stellar senior campaign.
The 6-foot-1 Air Force Academy commit paced Lake Stevens’ deep and balanced attack with 3.3 kills per set. She showcased an all-around arsenal with 2.5 digs, 0.5 aces, 0.3 blocks and 0.3 assists per frame.
And along with her all-star crew of teammates, she helped lead the perennial powerhouse Vikings to a 4A state runner-up finish.
For her standout season and the major role she played in Lake Stevens’ run to a second-place state trophy, Christensen is The Herald’s 2022 All-Area Volleyball Player of the Year.
“Bella takes a big, hard swing at the ball for impressive kills from both the front row and back row,” Hoglund said. “We counted on her a lot this year to put the ball away.
“(She also) played great defense for us this year, always seeming to be in the right spot. And she did a great job as a primary passer. … She was a huge part of our success.”
Christensen, ranked by PrepDig.com as the state’s No. 3 overall senior volleyball recruit, highlighted a star-studded Vikings lineup that featured elite talent all over the court.
According to PrepDig.com, Lake Stevens had three of the state’s top 20 senior recruits: Christensen, The Citadel-bound middle blocker Peri Hoshock and Western Washington University-bound middle blocker Hayli Tri.
The Vikings also had two of the state’s top 10 junior recruits in libero Alyss Kelly and setter Katelyn Eichert.
And they had a freshman phenom outside hitter in Laura Eichert, who teamed with Christensen for a dominant one-two attacking punch.
“It was amazing,” Christensen said of the team’s vast array of talent. “And them all being your best friends just makes it even better. You can trust them so much. And it’s not all on you.
“When there’s one really good person (on a team) and they’re having a bad game, then the whole team has a bad game. But with us, if one person has a bad game, then (another) person is gonna help. … It’s just a really nice balance.”
Christensen played sparingly during her first two high school seasons, sitting behind a slew of talented older players in Lake Stevens’ juggernaut program.
Determined to make a jump, she spent the 2021 summer training with friends and teammates at her volleyball club.
“That’s when I knew I wanted to play in college,” she said. “So I was like, ‘I need to do the things that I need to do to get there.’ … I went in every day with my friends and we just played together. And it made me a lot better.”
Christensen moved into the starting lineup as a junior last year and racked up a team-high 225 kills and 3.0 kills per set, while helping the Vikings to a seventh-place state trophy. She then added 342 kills this fall, giving her 567 kills over the past two seasons.
“She sees the ball well and hits the ball hard,” Hoglund said. “She also knew when to take a little bit of pace off of it and how to find the corners. I mean, I don’t know what else you’d want from a hitter. She’s tall, can jump, can hit the ball hard, but also plays smart.”
Prior to this year, Christensen had only played in the front row. But this season, she showcased an expanded skill set while playing all the way around.
Christensen totaled 258 digs, 56 aces and 27 assists this fall — after posting minimal stats in all three categories during her previous years. She had a big defensive performance in the state quarterfinals, providing a team-high 23 digs in Lake Stevens’ five-set comeback win over Curtis.
“We asked her to play all around (this year), which was one of the first times she’s done that in all of her volleyball career,” Hoglund said. “That was big. And she did a great job at it.
“Her serving ability went through the roof this year,” he added. “She put a lot of time and effort into that, and it paid rewards.”
Hoglund also praised Christensen for helping foster strong team chemistry.
“Bella is the type of player that lifts her teammates up, has a lot of fun on the court and motivates through enthusiasm and kind words,” Hoglund said. “… She has a fun-ness about her. She knew when to focus in and when to just have a good time.”
That team camaraderie was often on display during pregame stretching and warmups, when Christensen and the Vikings stayed loose by singing whatever songs came to mind.
“It was just really fun,” Christensen said. “It really put us in a happy mood and (helped) us do everything for each other.”
Lake Stevens came just short of its ultimate goal, falling to Graham-Kapowsin in the 4A state championship match.
But it was still another massively successful season for the Vikings.
They cruised through Wesco 4A for their sixth consecutive league title. They made their sixth consecutive 4A state tournament appearance. They earned their fourth consecutive state trophy. And they matched the 2019 Lake Stevens team with a program-best second-place state finish.
Christensen said she’s grateful to have played in the Vikings’ program.
“The girls have always been amazing,” she said. “The coaches have been amazing. I don’t know if I’d be as good of a player as I am if I didn’t go to Lake Stevens, just because of the amazing atmosphere and coaching.
“(It) put the pressure on me to be better, so I became better. And it got me to where I am now.”
Christensen is set to continue her volleyball career at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
It offers the best of both worlds for Christensen, who gets to play at the Division I level while also working toward her goal of serving in the military.
Christensen still remembers the moment she decided to pursue a spot in the Air Force Academy.
“I went in my parents’ room and was like, ‘I know what I’m gonna do with my life,’” she said.
Hoglund said he’s excited to follow Christensen’s volleyball career at the next level.
“I don’t think Bella has quite peaked yet,” he said. “I don’t think she’s reached her full potential. … I really look forward to seeing what she can do in the future.”