Gymnasiums are once again filled with the sound of a balled-up fists pummeling a volleyball mid-air — and someone on the other side of the net trying to stop the flying missile.
Volleyball is back, for now, and teams around Lewis County are preparing for a season after months of doubt, confusion and frustration. The WIAA has been kicking the proverbial can that is high school sports down the road for months due to the pandemic, starting with the postponement of fall sports in July 2020. Seasons have been jumbled and pushed back a few times here and there since then, until early January 2021, when fall sports were finally given a February start date.
That, coupled with the surprise of the West Region, which includes Lewis, Grays Harbor, Thurston and Pacific counties, moving into Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan, means traditional fall sports athletes are actually going to play — for a week or two at the very least.
2A Evergreen Conference
At W.F. West, the Bearcats are basking in the opportunity to practice together and prepare for this unexpected season. The Bearcats were ferocious in bump, set and spike drills Wednesday, and what starts as a friendly workout soon turns into a hollering match as both sides of the net erupt in cheers when their side scores or stops a point.
W.F. West’s Alisha Anderson, one of only two seniors on the team, is one of those leading the charge and yelling.
“It feels fantastic,” Anderson said. “I’ve been waiting for this all year and I’m so happy we got the go-ahead… I had my doubts, but I was glad when I heard we’d be out here.”
With teams having to compete within their region, there will be no non-conference games, only teams battling each other from within the 2A Evergreen Conference. Those include Tumwater, W.F. West, Rochester, Centralia, Black Hills and Aberdeen. Each team will play each other twice in a shortened 10-game season that runs from opening night on Feb. 9, to the season finale on March 11.
The Thunderbirds (15-9, 9-1) have been the perennial league champs while every other team usually fights for second place. The Bearcats placed third in the 2A EvCo last season, finishing 5-10 overall and 5-5 in league play. They were eliminated on day one of the district playoffs after going 0-2.
W.F. West’s fifth-year coach Emily Mora expects Tumwater to be the clear league favorites again this season and everyone else fighting for second place and below. The Thunderbirds went 1-2 at the state tourney last season.
The Beacats bring back just three starters, including junior Anna White, Emilia Etue and Anderson. Mora said she has a lot of confidence in Anderson, a defensive specialist who’s stepping into the starting libero role.
“People will be like, ‘Where’d she come from?’” Mora said. “I think she’s really embracing this leadership role that comes with being a libero.”
Centralia is coming off a season in which it finished fourth in league after a 5-9 overall and 4-6 league record. The Tigers lost their district play-in game to Hockinson to end their season. The Tigers leading returners are junior Jadyn Hawley and sophomore Madison Stoeckler, who were both all-league honorable mention selections during the 2019-20 season.
Rochester went 6-8 overall and 3-7 in league to finish fifth in the conference, and did not qualify for the postseason. They lose first-team all-league standout Lexie Jones-Sederberg to graduation.
1A Evergreen Conference
Tenino is coming off a winless down year, going 0-8 overall and 0-5 in the 1A Evergreen Conference. The Beavers do return junior standout Malika Slassi, an all-league honorable mention setter from last season.
Elma is the powerhouse in this league, winning their third-straight 1A EvCo title in 2019, which included a 24-game league winning streak. The Eagles should be just as good this season as they bring back all-league selections Ella Moore, Kayla Aho and Sarah Bridge.
2B Central League
The biggest change to the 2B Central League (C2BL) is its best team the past four years is now gone. Mossyrock, which collected three-consecutive runner-up finishes at state followed by a third-place showing last season, has now dropped down to the Class 1B level. That opens the door for more teams to get the shot at the league title this year.
The teams vying for the top spot should be Kalama, Wahkiakum and Toutle Lake. The only problem is those three teams, including Stevenson, are all in the Southwest Region, which is still currently stuck in Phase 1 of the state’s reopening plan. Teams in that region are not eligible to play games, and it could create a huge scheduling conflict if they are unable to compete against Lewis County’s West Region teams.
“Getting games or replacing those games with others will be a struggle for us,” Toledo coach Candace Maier said. “I don’t know how that works in terms of league and playoffs. I do know the playoffs are going to be modified, like regional competition. I’m not sure what that’s going to look like, really.”
Mossyrock took the district title last year, with Kalama coming in second, Toutle Lake third, Wahkiakum fourth and Willapa Valley fifth, with all five advancing to the state tourney.
Toutle Lake was the only team other than Mossyrock to place at state, taking sixth.
Toledo is the top returning Lewis County team in the league, finishing last season fifth with a 13-7 overall and 6-4 C2BL record. The Indians return five starters and will be led by senior Emma Cline-Maier, a second-team all-league setter, along with senior third-team all-league middle hitter Rylie Pliler and junior honorable-mention all-leaguer Brynn Williams.
Maier, entering her fifth year with the Indians, said the strength of the team this year will be teamwork as most of the girls have been playing together since sixth grade.
“We have a super positive feel during practices,” Maier said. “They communicate well, they get along well.”
Napavine went through a rebuilding year last year, tying for sixth in the league with a 10-8 overall record and 4-6 in league. The Tigers bring back one of the best hitters in the league in 6-foot senior Haily Murray, a first-team all-league outside/middle hitter who also made The Chronicle’s 2019 All-Area Volleyball Team.
“We leaned on her a lot,” Napavine coach Monica Dailey said. “There were times where we had to say, unfortunately, because we’ve never really had to say it in the past, but, ‘Just feed her the ball. We need some points. Just feed her the ball.’”
Napavine also brings back senior outside hitter Sidney Purvis, who made third-team all-league, along with Vannie Fagerness, a returning starter at libero who’s an efficient passer.
Also tying for sixth in the C2BL were Onalaska (7-10, 4-6 C2BL) and Adna (5-11, 4-6 C2BL). The Loggers, led by first-year head coach Jenny Hamilton, bring back eight varsity players including four seniors. Adna brings back junior outside hitter and setter Maddie Kleemeyer, an honorable-mention pick. Rainier came in seventh in the league, compiling a 6-9 overall and 2-8 league record.
Morton-White Pass (1-13, 1-9 C2BL) also had a rebuilding year last year after losing a ton of seniors the year before. The Timberwolves finished eighth out of nine teams. They bring back a couple solid starters in senior middle blocker Shaylee Peters, a third-team all-league pick, and Katie Salguero, an honorable-mention senior middle blocker.
Winlock came in last, going 2-14 overall and 0-10 in league play. The Cardinals get back 5-foot-10 junior Addison Hall, an all-league honorable-mention outside hitter who also made The Chronicle’s All-Area Girls Basketball Team.
1B Columbia Valley League
Mossyrock, Pe Ell and Willapa Valley are all dropping down to the Class 1B ranks and joining the 1A Columbia Valley League. Mossyrock and Willapa Valley both advanced to the state 2B tournament last season.
Mossyrock has destroyed 2B competition the last four years, taking second place at state three consecutive years before placing third last season. The Vikings went 19-2 overall in 2019, winning the C2BL while capturing their first district championship in program history.
They should have no problem in the 1B ranks and could have the deepest team in the entire state in that classification. The Vikings bring back two second-team all-leaguers in senior setter Morgan Houghtelling and sophomore outside hitter Payton Torrey.
Houghtelling connected on 93 percent of her serves last season while notching 42 aces. She also dished out a whopping 502 assists to go with 116 digs and 10 blocks.
Coach Alex Nelson, who was the 2BCL Coach of the Year in 2019, is getting her team prepared to take on Willapa Valley on Feb. 9.
“Unfortunately no state, but these guys are excited to just be here and hopefully we get some type of crossover/regional thing,” Nelson said.
Pe Ell went 3-11 overall and 2-7 in league play to finish seventh in the Pacific 2B League last season. The Trojans return four players who were all-league honorable mention in the 2B Pacific League last season: Claire Cleveland, a senior middle hitter, Ava Bush and Kennedy Kephart are both junior middle hitters and sophomore Payton Peterson.
The 1A Columbia Valley League will consist of Pe Ell, Mossyrock, Willapa Valley and Naselle.