Even after reaching the state playoffs last year, the Puyallup High volleyball team knows there’s no easy road back to the postseason.
Heck, it’s going to be a challenge just making it out of the 4A South Puget Sound League.
“We don’t have the size that many of the teams have, but I think we have enough quickness and we can work together to move the ball around those tall girls,” junior Tatyana Utley said.
Even knowing the challenge that’s in front of them, there’s optimism within the ranks of the team, with outside hitters Utley and Jordan Hunter leading that hope.
“I think they are kind of the key to the team a little bit, because outside hitters have to do so much,” Puyallup coach Tony Batinovich said. “Hopefully they’re serving, they have to pass well, and, of course, we need their offense. And depending on the passes they get, they have to be athletic to utilize what they get from their setters.”
This year, the Vikings, who are off to a 3-2 start entering the week, are expecting it to get loud during games, because with Hunter knocking down with kills or with Utley saving a point with a dig, Puyallup is expecting for to make some noise in the SPSL.
We can go really far with our team. We just need to be a team.
Outside hitter Jordan Hunter
“When (Jordan Hunter and Tatyana Utley) get a super good hit, that’s what gets me pumped. That’s when I’m screaming my loudest,” senior Makenna Winter said. “They’re our strongest hitters on the team.”
Two years ago, Puyallup faced a stark reality as a young team that wasn’t expected to match up with their competition. In many games, the Vikings were overmatched.
The point of the 2014 season for Batinovich was to rebuild, an aspect rarely seen from the program. It was a tough year for Puyallup volleyball as the Vikings finished with a 2-12 overall that year, making a tough season seem hard to take. But something changed with the Vikings last year — teams could no longer take them lightly.
The same can be said about this year’s squad.
“We can go really far with our team. We just need to be a team,” said Hunter, now a senior, who was a key piece of Puyallup’s rebuilding process when she was a sophomore.
“We have the same team as last year, basically, and we have the same starters. We should go pretty far,” she reiterated.
Last year, Puyallup finished the regular season 11-10 overall and had a 7-7 regular-season record, marking a stark improvement from the year prior. The Vikings just missed out on reaching a placement game at the Class 4A state tournament, but a loss to new league opponent Bellarmine Prep ended their season.
That’s why I scheduled it the way I did, so there would no easy games for us. The girls should see that they’re not that far off from some of the state’s best teams.
Puyallup coach Tony Batinovich
“I think we’ve improved since then,” said Batinovich, whose team has already played Auburn Riverside (3-1 loss, Sept. 6), Kentwood (3-2 win, Sept. 7) and Tahoma (3-1 loss, Sept. 15). “That’s why I scheduled it the way I did, so there would no easy games for us. The girls should see that they’re not that far off from some of the state’s best teams.”
And what they are discovering is that Hunter and Utley might be better than they were last year, as Hunter has become the leader Puyallup needs, and Utley’s athleticism and instincts make it hard to score a point on the Vikings when they are playing together.
“Our team gets in our head a lot, but when we start playing loud, we start playing harder,” Utley said.
The tougher the opponent, the louder the Vikings will be on the court, and with Hunter and Utley lining up at the net, Puyallup’s gym might just be rocking this season.
“That would be good because we feed off the crowd’s energy. It gives us momentum,” Utley said.