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Vikings hope to continue banner year in postseason
POULSBO — The North Kitsap girls volleyball team is used to winning.
So after putting up a 17-2 regular season record and being ranked No. 2 in the state, a 3-1 loss in Tuesday’s sub-district seeding match at Capital High was a bit of an unusual experience.
“I think maybe they weren’t sure how to take it,” Head Coach Tim French said of the loss.
But most of the girls took the loss in stride, and chose to view it as a learning experience heading into today’s West Central District III tournament in Auburn.
“I think it was good to play a team like that,” sophomore floor captain Sarah Baugh said of Capital. “We know what to expect, and we know what to work on. It can only get better from what happened (Tuesday) night.”
French said the loss was an eye opener, and showed his team that the road to the state tournament is not as smooth as the path to the Olympic League title. The Vikings nabbed the league title this season, for the second consecutive year.
“When you’re going along winning throughout the league,” French said, “what you’re doing seems to be working, and you feel pretty comfortable with it. So this is kind of a wake-up call, to say, ‘Now this is where we need to try to pick it up.’”
Winning every one of their league matches is just the start of what the Vikings did this season. The team defeated larger, 4A programs like South Kitsap and Central Kitsap early in the year. The Vikings’ only two losses came during a Sept. 12 tournament in Yakima, at which they also won three matches. While plenty of hurdles still lie ahead, the Vikings have already met or exceeded many of their own expectations for the 2009 season.
“We had two main goals, and one was to win the league title, which I felt was a challenging but realistic goal,” French said. “In our gym (on a plaque on the wall), there’s only two other years that show a league championship, so it’s nice to add to the volleyball plaque.”
Prior to 2008, the only time the Vikings won a league title in volleyball was in 1990, when North Kitsap was still a 4A school. Now, in their third season at the 3A level, the Vikings are dominating the Olympic League. What French and his team hope to do next is take their winning habits beyond the local scene.
“The other goal was to make it to the state tournament, and that’s still a possibility, so we’re excited about that,” French said.
The first team standing in front of the Vikings’ state hopes is the Bonney Lake Panthers, the No. 6 seed from the South Puget Sound/Seamount sub-district. The two teams will face off at 3:45 p.m. today at Auburn Mountainview High School. The Vikings need to win at least two games in the district tournament to move on to state.
French believes the team has a shot at advancing, because of two crucial ingredients: offensive skill and camaraderie.
“The senior leadership so far this year has been better, and the team chemistry (as well). This is maybe the best team chemistry I’ve had,” said French, who is in his sixth year as head coach. “The girls really get along well with each other, and that shows on the court.”
Most of the girls have competed together in club leagues, and the team’s seven seniors have played alongside each other since junior high.
“We’re such good friends off the court, too,” senior outside hitter Taylor Ottomano said. “So we can work better, knowing each other’s sides.”
French admits the team could improve on defense, but the hard-hitting offense has carried the Vikings to where they currently stand.
“We’ve never really had two outstanding hitters at the same time, and I think we have that this year in Sarah (Baugh) and Taylor (Ottomano),” he said.
French added that several players have had key roles, including senior Claire Torstenbo and sophomore Indigo Williams as blockers, and junior Bryana Bohl, who racked up 56 aces during the regular season.
“We have great talent this year,” Baugh said. “And we need to take it as far as we can go. This is our chance.”