Excitement abounded and there were some tears of joy shed after the massive 3A SeaKing District victory. The Mercer Island High School (MIHS) volleyballers were heading to state.
Before that 3-0 triumph over Bishop Blanchet, it had been seven long years since the MIHS team last stepped onto the court at the 3A state tournament. The girls are now set to showcase their skills in the premier event, which tips off this Friday at the Yakima Valley SunDome.
After locking in their spot to state, the Islanders (18-10 overall) next blanked Bellevue, 3-0, to notch fifth place in the district tournament on Nov. 11 at Lake Washington High School.
The MIHS girls will be setting their alarm clocks early on Friday as they’ll battle Central Kitsap at 8 a.m. in a loser-out contest.
Senior outside hitter Mia Vorkoper said they’ll quickly rise from their slumber and jump into game mode. The key to advancing in the tournament will be keeping their heads in the game and utilizing what’s been working for the team all season: passing, nailing their serve receive and achieve a first-ball kill from their strong hitters, and flowing as a team in the passing realm.
“We’ve worked so hard this season and we’ve gotten so much better in so many aspects, just always valuing that aspect of hard work,” Vorkoper said. “I’m on the court a lot because I both pass and hit, and so I think what I really try and focus on is bringing stability to the team. We care a lot about the game so we can get hyped up in our emotions a lot.”
Head coach Carmen Vasilatos discussed what her squad — which took third in the 3A KingCo Tournament — brings to the court before practice on Tuesday: “This team just plays with so much heart. This team just doesn’t give up. They’re relentless.”
Case and point was the Blanchet match, in which the Islanders rebounded from an 18-10 deficit in the first set to win, 25-22. That set got the locals rolling and they tacked on 25-21, 25-22 wins to put a stamp on the 3-0 overall victory.
“It was just super, super exciting, like words can’t really describe (it). I was just so excited that it finally happened. It’s really just what we’ve been working for,” said senior outside hitter and co-captain Logan Remington. “All the emotions were felt that day.”
On turning around the Blanchet first set and propelling their way to state, senior setter and co-captain Melena Wong — who is the only current four-year varsity Islander volleyballer — said they established a mindset to play their game and not give in to distractions during the emotional contest.
“We know that we have to work hard for each other to bring us back,” she said of their long and successful service run. “What we’ve been working for in practice and our hard work kind of paid off in that scenario.”
Vasilatos said that switching 6-foot-3 Remington from middle blocker to outside hitter at a Sammamish tournament in late October was a crucial change that would help pave the way to state.
“If this works, it’s going to work really well, and it all clicked,” the coach said of the move that gave their other solid middle players vital court time.
When the pieces fell into place, “I feel like we’ve finally found our groove and we’ve peaked at the right time,” Vasilatos added with a smile.
Remington said it was a tough switch at first, but she gradually eased into her new role and has thrived ever since.
“It’s just been really fun, actually. I’ve kind of always said that it’s been my dream to kind of hit outside. I never really thought it was going to be a reality until this year,” said Remington, adding that she’s enjoyed witnessing the progress that everyone’s made this season.
Along with diligently pounding and digging balls and delivering passes that have them reaping success, the Islanders earned the 3A KingCo team sportsmanship award.
It’s all about taking their work seriously while putting in the maximum effort each time out — and having an immensely good time along the way, said Vasilatos, adding that laughter often erupts in between plays or following a rough drill. If it wasn’t their best performance, they’ll laugh, shake it off and move on with their practice.
“Being able to have those honest discussions and hold each other accountable, that’s what I’m here for,” she said of the talks that will resonate on the volleyball court and in their outside lives.
Wong added about what makes the team shine this season: “I think that the most important thing about this volleyball team is having really good connection. I think, luckily, I’ve had teams for the past four years that have just had girls that gel well together, especially this year. We’re a really fun group of girls. I love ‘em. We have fun on the court, we have fun off the court.”