Last year the Woodinville volleyball team placed fourth at the Class 4A state tournament — its best finish in school history by far— and the Lady Falcons are back to take another run at it.
But first things first for fourth-year coach Mike Mills, as last year is just a fond memory.
"Right now we’re still figuring out who our setter’s going to be," he said of the critical position that sets the offense in motion. "We have three players battling for that spot right now and we’ll learn more after we play a couple preseason games."
Mills, however, has the luxury of one sure thing: Ali Forde is back for her senior year, good for the coach and a big problem for the rest of the KingCo conference.
The 6 foot, 2 inch wrecking ball was first team all-state last season — the only junior between the Puget Sound and the Idaho border to earn the honor — and according to Mills has gotten better.
"She can hit outside, hit middle, she can pass and serve and plays great defense up front and in the back," he said. "She’s an all-around player without a doubt, and she’ll be on the court a lot. We have high expectations for her and she has high goals for herself."
Always a leader by example, Forde now steps into a more vocal leadership role with the void left by the graduation of Melissa Gilkey and Carmen Vasilatos, a role she can handle, Mills said.
"Oh yeah, what’s driving her right now is she just wants the team to succeed. She had a lot of fun last year ending state on a high note, not just being a great player but having her team play along at that great level, too."
Seniors Ashtyn Mann, Kelsea Orren and Jen Schnelle all dipped their toes in the state tournament waters and are slated for the starting lineup.
"Ashtyn’s 6-2, will play in the middle, strong, great vertical, getting her angles down," Mills said. "Kelsea is vying for the setter position, played a lot of backcourt for us last year but can play anywhere. And we moved Jen to libero this year. She was a setter but now it’ll be a full time defensive gig for her. She played a lot of defense at state and we’re real excited about what she’s turned into as a senior."
Senior Andie Kelly and juniors Hailey Chapman and Maddy Young appear to have the inside track to be the other starters, Mills said, though nothing was set in stone before even the jamboree was played.
Kelly’s a competitive 6-footer who’s made great strides, Chapman is a high-jumping outside hitter who can set, too, and Young, Mills said, "might surprise some people this year." Also in the mix at setter is junior Brooke Wiley, who played a bit at state as a sophomore serving specialist and gained some big-game experience.
What does Mills like best about this group?
"The neat thing is they really get along well together," he said. "There’s a natural chemistry that clicks. Things have been very smooth so far which is cool, and never a given with teenagers."
The Lady Falcons jump right into the frying pan, traveling to traditional powerhouses Edmonds-Woodway and Graham-Kapowsin this week and then participating in the Adidas Tournament at Auburn-Mountainview to face quality opponents before KingCo play begins.
The big question right now is who will establish herself at setter, and this time next week Mills will have a much better idea of who can put the ball in the window consistently. So far, he likes what he sees on defense.
"I feel we’re ahead defensively right now of where we were (the sametime) last year — which was a pretty good team but we struggled a bit early.
"We just need to play some other teams. There’s only so much you can learn playing against yourself."