The bus ride from Langley to Burlington-Edison covers 65 miles and takes one hour and 45 minutes — each way.
That’s a long time for someone who gets nauseous from car travel unless they drive. Add a bus of singing, chanting, sleeping and chatting girls and such is the life of South Whidbey volleyball head coach Mandy Jones.
“Sometimes they sing. It’s really annoying,” Jones laughed.
This journey was for the District 1 volleyball tournament elimination match. The winner advanced to the tri-district tournament for a shot at the state 1A playoffs, the loser went home with a fourth-place district finish.
That was South Whidbey’s fate last year on its home court. The Falcons lost a winner-to-state, loser-out match in five sets — the worst loss of Jones’ six-year coaching career.
“I’m still not over it,” she said.
The 19 girls of the Falcon volleyball program, 12 on varsity and seven from junior varsity and C-team, loaded into the back of the bus. Their coaches sat at the front — mostly for their own sanity — after counting the girls to make sure everyone was aboard and exchanging a quick hand gesture of touching thumbs in the shape of a “W” and saying, “Winner.”
Jones and assistant coach Meggan Lubach are both parents of young children and are accustomed to racket, but the off-key singing of teenagers can get tiresome.
Riding north, players were quiet and the coaches fought off motion sickness. Sometimes the girls dueled as duets with a pair of girls sharing headphones singing one tune and another duo singing a different tune.
At other times, the bus was silent, save for the whir of traffic that went by. All of the bodies combined with the consistent rainfall made for a muggy bus as the windows collected condensation.
Those windows were wiped clean so the players could get a clear view of a supposed haunted house near Coupeville. Legend has it, said Jones, that a house visible from the highway is haunted by ghosts from a nearby building that used to be a school where several students died. It’s one of those Whidbey Island legends that Jones heard when she was in school, and in turn shared it with her players during a trip to Lynden last Saturday. From there, the players riding with her told their teammates, who wanted to glimpse the haunted house on this trip: “Which house is it?” “Oh, I see it!” “Mandy, the curtains are shut!”
By the time the bus gets to Oak Harbor, the excitement of the bus ride is gone. Players are napping in the back and settling into music on their iPhones.
Despite the importance of the match, the 12 varsity Falcons don’t appear nervous. A loss means the season ends, a victory means one step closer to the state tournament. None of the girls were shaking their legs or biting their nails. There wasn’t even any talk of the game or their opponents. That was exactly what Jones and Lubach wanted: confident players.
“They’re either really confident or they don’t care,” Jones said. “I’m hoping they’re confident.”
After the match, a three-set loss for South Whidbey, players exchanged hugs and cried. Their season was finished, and for the two seniors, Hannah Calderwood and Aly Chapman, their Falcon volleyball careers were done as well.
A handful of varsity players rode home with their families that made the trip. The rest were treated to a quick stop at a McDonald’s — a rare event for those living on South Whidbey, where the only fast food franchise is a Dairy Queen. That’s what lead one girl to say, “I’ve never been to Wendy’s,” as the bus traveled through Burlington, passing several fast food restaurants.
The ride home was noisier than the journey there. It’s a phenomenon Jones and Lubach noticed all season — girls were quiet on the way to a match, then raucous after a loss.
And it culminated with one of the more cliche moments of any bus trip. As the bus approached Maxwelton Road, the girls sang.
“Thank you Mrs. Bus Driver, bus driver, bus driver. Thank you Mrs. Bus Driver, thanks for the ride. The journey was bumpy and the seats were all lumpy, but thank you, Mrs. Bus Driver. Thanks for the ride.”