It’s been 17 years since Kentridge High School stepped onto the court for a state volleyball match.
Such a thought astonishes Kate Wick and her teammates, none of whom was born in 2001, the Chargers’ last trip to the Class 4A showcase.
“It’s crazy to think about,” said Wick, the Chargers’ 6-foot-1 senior outside hitter. “We’ve been here for so long, seeing this program go from where we were to where we are now. It has been a wonderful journey.”
The great adventure continued last Saturday when top-ranked Kentridge dispatched heralded Puyallup and Olympia to capture the West Central District tournament at Kentlake High School. The Chargers (22-0) prevailed in a pair of four-set matches, outlasting Puyallup in the afternoon semifinal – 25-20, 22-25, 25-10, 25-21 – before beating Olympia in the evening final by scores of 25-17, 17-25, 25-23, 25-15.
Kentridge, No. 1 in most 4A state polls and ranked ninth nationally in the MaxPreps’ Xcellent 25 Writers’ Poll last week, have dropped only 10 games in 22 matches this season.
The Chargers will carry the momentum into this weekend’s 16-team, double-elimination state tournament at the Yakima Valley SunDome. Kentridge opens play against Kennedy Catholic at 8 a.m. Friday. The Chargers swept the Lancers in a North Puget Sound League Cascade Division match on Oct. 15.
“We have a favorable side of the bracket,” said Kentridge coach Eric Han, who has seen the program rise in four seasons under his watch. “But everyone is at state for a reason, right? … Every set of your match is going to be tough, every point is going to be hard fought.”
Looking for some resistance, Kentridge found it at district. “It was (difficult),” Han said. “Teams are taking sets off us now, so the girls are facing a little bit more adversity. There learning how to play through losses in sets.”
Kentridge continues its steady play with a balanced attack, a mixture of finesse and power, youth and experience. The Chargers have received solid all-around play from Zaiah “Zay” Calvin, the NPSL Cascade Most Valuable Player; first-team all-league players Wick and Austin Ibale; and Madeline Gooding and Nellie Escandon, who earned second-team honors.
Calvin, a 5-9 senior outside hitter and three-year varsity player, is the emotional leader and inspirational trigger who emerged this fall after developing her game during the club level season.
“She’s a really big leader, on and off the court,” Han said of Calvin, who has attracted interest from colleges. “Behind closed doors at practices, people don’t see this, but whenever I need to express something to the girls or keep the girls disciplined, she’s the one doing it for me.
“She really focuses in matches, and the coaches really know her demeanor,” Han added. “It’s looks like she’s angry or mad all the time. It looks intimidating, but we know her demeanor and how she is.”
Calvin’s tone has pushed her teammates.
“She is loud, explosive and aggressive, and her energy is so contagious,” said Wick, a four-year varsity player who has earned a scholarship to play at Western Washington University in Bellingham next year. “She’s making sure we’re going hard and going 100 percent. It’s what we do.”
The Chargers have embraced the undefeated run, refusing to feel the weight of a perfect mark.
“Even though we are No. 1 in the state, we still have that mindset to keep pushing one game at a time, one point at a time,” Calvin said.
Wick added, “There’s an expectation on us, but we were the underdogs up to this point. We are all super humble. We go into every game never expecting anything. We never know which way it’s going to go, so we have to play hard and go after it.”
That senior wisdom has helped keep the Chargers concentrated on the task at hand.
“Even though we’re undefeated, it doesn’t mean anything,” said Ibale, the Chargers’ 5-10 senior setter, a four-year varsity player, who has accepted a scholarship to play at Seattle Pacific University. “Our coach has especially said (that) we like to walk into district, state with a new record.”
The Chargers are playing in honor of two men who have passed away.
“The team has dealt with a little adversity, losing our statistician Bob Poyneer last year and then this past summer losing our athletic director, Eric Anderson,” Han said. “The girls are proud to be representing KR and the Kentridge family.”
Kentridge is also playing one last time for Han, who has announced that he will be leaving the school to become an assistant coach at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma next year.
The Chargers vow to finish a memorable season by bringing back a state trophy.
“Going to state for the very first time will be kind of nerve-wracking at first, for sure, but I know our team will show up and play how we’ve always have played,” Ibale said. “Stay positive. We know how we can play. We have to make sure we stick to that and play the hardest we can … just going after it.”
“It’s been a dream season and our energy has been crazy,” Wick said. “We want it, and it shows on the court.”