The Chargers enter the Class 4A state tournament 22-0, ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 9 in the nation.
Kate Wick first wondered as a freshman — when had Kentridge High School last qualified for the state volleyball tournament?
So she did some investigating and was in awe of the answer: 2001.
“I found out Kentridge hadn’t been since before we were born, which is crazy to think about,” said Wick, now a senior co-captain and key outside hitter. “We wanted to be the team to get there.”
After near-misses the past two seasons, the 2018 squad finally did exactly that, ending a 17-year drought.
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And the Chargers aren’t just in the Class 4A field at the Yakima Valley SunDome this weekend, they are the favorite, sporting a 22-0 record, No. 1 state ranking and a No. 9 national nod by MaxPreps.
Eric Han, in his fourth (and final) season as coach, believes his team is capable of winning it all.
“My team has bought in,” he said. “As long as they execute and show up with some confidence, this is a rightly so No. 1-ranked state team.”
Han, who has accepted a position as assistant coach at the University of Puget Sound, said the team’s cohesiveness and balance have been key to the return to prominence.
Technically, most of the seniors were born when Kentridge reached that 2001 state tournament and placed eighth, but barely (Wick, for instance, was about eight months old). The Chargers were semi-regulars from the mid-70s through the ‘90s, winning the title in 1989 and taking home four second-place trophies.
Kentridge finished one win short of qualifying in 2016 and ’17, but gained confidence along the way.
Wick and setter Austin Ibale, childhood friends who live a block apart, are four-year letter winners and three-year starters who earned all-NPSL honors this season. Their experience is paying off — along with the development of fellow senior Zaiah Calvin, who earned MVP honors in the NPSL Cascade Division.
“Last year, we had a lot of accomplishments as a team and chemistry that we carried over to this year,” Ibale said. “With six seniors, we definitely brought out that intensity more to go to state and get over that hump. … And this year I think we’ve wanted it more than ever.”
They’ve wanted it in part to honor Eric Anderson, the school’s iconic athletic director who unexpectedly passed away in July. Players wear patches on their jerseys with the letters EA and a lightning bolt.
“He was such a big part of the program,” Wick said.
Just the year before, they lost longtime statistician Bob Poyneer.
“The team has faced some adversity,” Han said.
On the court, they’ve seen little of it this season. The Chargers have been pushed to five sets only twice, by No. 6 Puyallup and No. 2 Tahoma, and both of those matches were well over a month ago. They’ve lost just 10 sets overall.
So they have good reason to play with confidence in Yakima, despite the lack of state experience.
“This has been our dream since freshman year,” Ibale said.
While winning at state is definitely a goal, it is not the only one, according to Calvin — a big-time hitter in a somewhat smallish frame (she’s closer to 5 foot 7 than the 5-9 she’s listed). Playing with fire and discipline are important to this team, she said.
“If we think that we went all-out and if we’re impressed by how we played — at the end of the game, at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.”
When: Friday and Saturday.
Where: Yakima Valley SunDome.
Follow along: @SandyRinger1 and @wiaawa on Twitter.
Top storylines: Unbeaten Kentridge, ranked No. 9 nationally, is back in the tournament for the first time since 2001 and expected to make a run for only the second title in school history (won in 1989). But it appears to be a balanced field with plenty of legitimate contenders — including tradition-rich West Valley of Yakima, which has plenty of incentive after falling short of its goals the past three tournaments. … Auburn Riverside is the defending two-time 4A champion and is playing well after a slow start but is a longshot to threepeat. … Capital of Olympia has the horses to capture a second-straight 3A crown, but the field — which includes five Metro League teams — is loaded and Ferndale is considered the favorite.
Five players to watch: MB Shea Rubright, 6-5, Sr., West Valley-Yakima: University of Minnesota commit (and Under Armour All-American) is widely considered the state’s top overall player. … OPP Gabby Kepley, 5-11, Sr., North Creek: Second-year school qualified for 4A tourney largely due to the play of Kepley, the KingCo MVP. … S Maddie Ryan, 5-11, Sr., Lakeside: Metro League Mountain Division MVP and a University of Chicago commit, Ryan has keyed the Lions’ run to 3A state. … OH Devon Martinka, 6-2, Sr., Stanwood: Martinka, the top hitter in a tough WesCo 3A, is a four-year starter who attacks from anywhere. S Hailey Pelton, 6-0, Sr., Ferndale: Smooth, Idaho-bound player hopes to cap her impressive career with the 3A state title.
Favorites: 4A: Kentridge, West Valley (Yakima), Richland. 3A: Ferndale, Mount Spokane, Capital (Olympia).
Last: The tournaments are being played a week later than usual because of a move from Kennewick to the SunDome, where the 1A, 2B and 1B events were held last week.