Road trips are usually fun. This one wasn’t.
The four-hour closure of the Clinton-to-Mukilteo ferry route on Saturday morning plagued not only islanders, tourists and everybody in between, but also South Whidbey volleyball.
The Falcons had to reach their destination of King’s High School to play in the Bi-District Volleyball Tournament the long way, via Deception Pass Bridge, in what amounted to a two-and-a-half-hour trip.
Fortunately for the Falcons, the hurried warm up and wacky start to the day did not adversely affect the team, who went on to qualify for the Class 1A state volleyball championships. South Whidbey swept opponents Northwest and Forest Ridge in three sets to punch its ticket to the SunDome in Yakima. South Whidbey (13-7 overall, 6-6 in Cascade Conference) plays La Center in the first round at 8 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 11.
The Falcons last qualified for state in 2013. Senior outside hitter Kacie Hanson remembers it well. She was just a freshman when she reached the SunDome.
“I just remember when we first got there, we walked in the SunDome and it felt like the ceiling was literally a mile away,” Hanson said.
Hanson considers herself fortunate to be going back.
“It’s incredible,” Hanson said. “I felt pretty lucky to have this team this year. I’m so proud of everyone.”
Junior Kolby Heggenes has also probably had to pinch herself a few times this week. She set advancing to state as one of her top goals after she watched her cousin compete in the state championships for Brewster High School.
“I remember going to watch her actually at the SunDome… and always thinking, ‘I want to do this, this is where I want to go,’ ” Heggenes said. “Just finally being able to actually go and do this, it’s just so sweet.”
The Falcons tried to cast away any doubt of coming up short prior to the tournament. Sophomore Emma Leggett, who led the Falcons with a combined 30 kills in their two wins, wasn’t sure the Falcons could pull it off.
“I never actually thought we could make it this far, but thinking about it, we have such an amazing team and really we conquer anything that we set our minds to, truly,” Leggett said.
Not far from their thoughts was the fact that the Falcons lost two of their starters prior to the tournament. The players, who head coach Mandy Jones declined to name, violated the school’s athletic code and were suspended a week.
Ugly as it was, the Falcons were successful in maintaining team integrity and communication.
“It sucked, it really sucked, but we knew there was nothing to be done so we just made the best out of it,” Leggett said. “We just played our hearts out. I played for them to be honest. I was like, ‘I want to show everyone that we can set our minds to no matter what troubles we’ve been through and we can do it and get to state.”
Jones said they also shifted players around to fill in roles that they normally wouldn’t play. For example, Heggenes, typically a right-sided player, moved to middle hitter. She received praise from Jones after recording seven kills and five solo blocks in the Falcons’ 25-17, 25-15, 25-21 win over Forest Ridge.
Also gaining approval from Jones was Leggett, who she considers to be the next Linden Firethorne. Firethorne, a 2012 graduate of South Whidbey High School, was a two-time first-team all-Great Northwest Athletics Conference outside hitter for Central Washington University.
Leggett’s personality, however, is one of a kind.
“Not only is she a really good player, she is a fun kid,” Jones said. “She’s goofy. She just brings a light to the team that we haven’t had in a long time.”
Perhaps most confident in the Falcons’ chances of qualifying for state was Jones. Though it’s common for head coaches to promise their teams the stars, Jones said she truly meant it at the start of the season.
“I really, honestly, felt it,” Jones said. “With this team, I knew that we were going.”
Maybe the stars, or a top-eight state placing, are within reach too.