The R.A. Long volleyball team believes a turnaround is imminent.
The first match of the season, in which the Lumberjills swept the visiting Wahkiakum Mules 3-0 (25-19, 25-23, 25-16) at the Lumberdome on Tuesday night, isn’t always the best indicator, the Jills are not just hopeful. They’re confident.
“I think they’re capable of winning,” RAL coach Whitney Luchau said. “I think we’re gonna win because they want to win. That’s a huge difference in the mindset going into this year.”
And they have some right to be.
RAL has four sophomores in its rotation and all play key roles. There’s the tall girl in the middle, Y Ta, who used powerful hits and clever serves to get points. There’s Jorden Williamson, who scored a game-high 14 kills, scoring from the front and back rows. There’s Danni Hopper, whose lone kill sealed the sweep, and there’s Miranda Bergquist and her 30 assists.
That’s only adding to junior Kenna Kolbaba, Kamryn Holmdahl (seven kills, nine digs, three aces), Marciela Galvan (12 service points, three digs) and Abby White.
“Our offense was working it tonight,” Galvan said.
The team is young, but the team is hungry.
“They’re the type of players that are always playing,” Luchau said. “It doesn’t matter. We could be at a barbeque, and they’re peppering. They just genuinely love the game and that definitely showed tonight.”
Ta’s five aces were impressive. Not just because of the number and how they came — short, long, knuckling, well-placed — it’s that she hated serving a year ago and really committed to improving that aspect of her game.
“We really worked hard to develop confidence back there and she — I don’t think she missed a serve. I’ll have to check the stats (she didn’t),” Luchau said. “She totally is a smart player and placed the ball well tonight, so that was good.”
Despite the huge disparity in enrollments (689 or RAL and 96 for Wahkiakum), the sweep wasn’t a sure thing.
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The Mules, themselves trying to find a rotation and lineup that works with 16 rostered players Tuesday night, hung with the Jills for each of the three sets.
RAL needed a 5-0 run in the first set to pull away from an 11-11 tie, barely emerged from the second set after a pass hit the out-of-bounds speakers above the net, then needed an early 10-3 run to pull away in the third and final set.
Much of that was due to Wahkiakum’s energy. After each point, they loudly celebrated as if they had won the match, carrying that energy all the way through RAL’s 75th point.
Wahkiakum didn’t come to lose.
“We were really confident because the last few weeks of practice, we’ve been doing this drill called “bread” because we went to Guy Enriquez’s team camp,” Jansi Merz said. “We’re doing a really amazing job in practice, so we had confidence through the roof.”
But, alas, they did, though coach Kayli Hurley wasn’t upset about that.
She knows a win doesn’t a season make and lose doesn’t a season ruin, and, on top of that, there was an ulterior motive Tuesday night: trying to find the right ingredients.
“If we can find the right mix, the right meal, we can do some pretty big things,” Hurley said. “Now, whether we put it together all the time and have a five-course meal every match, that’s the question that remains to be seen. But there’s potential to put together a pretty hefty menu.”
She found some, at least.
Merz was big in the middle, as the 6-footer scored seven kills and two for the Mules, leading them offensively. Naia Freeman (eight kills), another middle, took a step forward, something Hurley was hoping would happen. Asia Taccori and Teylor Sauer both had three kills and Solana Stanley had 17 digs from the libero spot.
All that optimism has the Mules thinking about the future, as dangerous as that can be.
“I think we can definitely make it to state,” Merz said. “I don’t know (because it’s early). But we can definitely, definitely make it to state.”
The Jills host W.F. West on Thursday at 7 p.m. and the Mules meet Morton-White Pass in Randle on the same day at the same time.