New coach, new line-up, same Montesano volleyball traditions.
When first-year Bulldogs coach Renee Volz took over the program, she inherited a team with just a few returning full-time varsity players from the previous year’s team. That team had captured its third consecutive 1A Evergreen League title in 2016 before advancing to the state tournament for a second straight season.
Graduated from that team was seven seniors who went undefeated in league play during their three years on varsity.
Two-time all-league setter Hannah Hatcher was back for her senior year, as was middle hitter McKenna Miller, who saw her junior season shorted due to injury last year. Lyndsay Pace and Janessa Otterstetter returned as well, but other than that Volz was looking at 8 new faces on the varsity roster in 2017.
Hatcher, Miller and Kaydee Mittleider, the third senior on the team, have done their part to make the transition smooth and successful for the young Bulldogs.
“As much as I’ve enjoyed coaching them, they have really helped me navigate through the Montesano system,” said Volz, who was an assistant at Elma two years ago. “Every system is different. Every school is different in how they do stuff and their traditions.”
Despite the coaching staff change, the traditions stayed – one big one being “Quote of the Day.”
“They normally did it at the end of the day, but our practices always got so crazy that I ended up forgetting and they would have to remind me,” Volz said. “We’ve since changed it now so it’s at the beginning of practice.”
“What is your why?”
That’s the quote that resonated with Miller the most.
Why are you so dedicated? Why do you play so hard? Why are you a part of Montesano volleyball?
All these questions fit into that particular quote of the day.
For all three seniors the answer was simple – their why was each other.
“When I came in as a sophomore the seniors took me right in,” Hatcher said. “They made me feel like everyone else. We want to do the same. It doesn’t feel like we are separated into classes. We’re just Montesano volleyball. Some of the girls on this team are freshman, but it feels like they are seniors too and we’ve been playing together forever.”
As expected, with so many first-year varsity players, the Bulldogs needed the first part of the regular season to iron the kinks out on the court. Hatcher moved from setter to libero back to her usual setter position as the makeup of the team was being figured out.
But the one thing that fell right into place from the start was the team unity – thanks in large part to Volz’s three seniors.
“I think the one thing that has always been evident was how much all the girls truly care about each other,” Volz said. “We struggled to find our groove early on, but the seniors were always looking out for the entire team. They are really encouraging of each other and pushing each other. They want each other to be better. I’m just really proud of all of them because they have been such great leaders.”
In addition to the three seniors, the Bulldogs also feature two juniors Cori Fritts and Lindsay Pace, a large six-member sophomore class with Carly Bradbury, Zoe Hutchings, Emma Jensen, Emma Kahler, Janessa Otterstetter and Mylaina Parker and freshman Jessica Stanfield.
“It has to be the cohesiveness of the team,” said Mittleider when asked what is her favorite aspect of the squad is. “We just see everyone as equals. This is my first year on varsity. It’s a different view than I’ve had before. It’s great to be able to share it with (Hatcher and Miller). We’re just looking to carry on our great tradition.”
Both Hatcher and Mittleider selected the same “Quote of the Day” as their favorites – that being, actions speak louder than words.
And Montesano has been doing just that during the second half of the regular season, finding its stride as postseason play approaches.
“I think we are just now reaching our peak and there’s still more to come,” Miller said. “We’re starting to play the way we are capable of. The last three games have been really good games for us. I can’t wait to see how the end of the season comes. We’re getting ready for districts.”
The Bulldogs advanced to the 1A District 4 championship match last year, losing to La Center (3-1) to secure the second seed to the state tournament.
District tournament play will begin on November 1 this year, with the top two teams securing berths into the state tournament, which will be held November 9-10 at the Yakima Valley SunDome.
“It’s a different season, but we know what it takes,” Hatcher said. “We want to make it to state. I think we can do it if we just push ourselves.”