Laurie Creighton’s focus is on the future as her 38th season as head coach of Olympia High School’s volleyball team begins, but the Bears will rely on a legacy from the past as they move forward.
Ahead is a trip into the challenging — and somewhat unknown — world of the Bears’ new league, the Class 4A South Puget Sound League. It’s home to state champion Curtis and runner-up Emerald Ridge. Three other SPSL members also reached state a year ago: Bellarmine Prep (which joins Olympia in moving from the disbanded 4A Narrows League), Graham-Kapowsin and Puyallup.
“Every night we’ll have a tough, competitive opponent who will make us better,” Creighton said. “Our kids get it. My job is to fill them with confidence, to make them realize we’re one of the strong, traditional programs too.”
Creighton, who has won 801 matches as Olympia’s coach, needs only to look at senior outside hitter Lauren Wilson for a reminder of the program’s illustrious past.
Wilson hammered 358 kills a year ago on her way to all-4A Narrows honors. She heads into her final season 30 years after her mother, Shelly Wilson — then Shelly Cooper — earned all-Black Hills League honors and helped Olympia reach state as a 5-foot-7 senior middle blocker.
Lauren and her sister Camryn — who played varsity as a freshman a year ago but will miss this season with a back injury — are the only daughters of Creighton’s hundreds of former players to find their way into a Bears uniform.
Creighton can be excused if her mind occasionally drifts back to Shelly’s 1986 season while watching Lauren play. She says Lauren exhibits the same demeanor as her “super competitive” mother, who concurs.
“She has a similar game face,” Shelly Wilson said of her daughter. “I’m focused when I play — very verbal. I’ll celebrate a point but get right back to being focused for the next one. I see the same thing in her.”
Lauren has seen only still photos and old uniforms from Shelly’s high school days, no videotape, but agrees she shares a verbal approach. A co-editor of the Olympia student newspaper, she also appreciates the uniqueness of their connection.
“At our banquet my freshman year, Coach Creighton mentioned I was the first daughter of one of her players to play for her. I thought that was really cool,” Lauren said, though Camryn’s injury will add a touch of disappointment to the current season. “It’s a really big bummer. It’s hard because we did get to play together last year, but didn’t know it was going to be the last time.”
Four inches taller than her mom at 5-11, Lauren also got a gift from her dad, Curt Wilson, a former high jumper at Washington State University.
“I could jump,” Shelly said, “but Lauren can really jump.”
With her parents active on the adult volleyball scene and in club coaching, and with her cousins Amanda Warner Sampson and Sarah Warner both members of state championship teams at Tumwater, Lauren’s decision to play volleyball might have seemed inevitable.
While she played pickup volleyball with the Warners growing up and watched her parents play, Lauren was primarily a soccer player until seventh grade, when she began to play organized volleyball. The reason?
“I chose the program as much as the sport,” she said. “Being a part of the Olympia volleyball program is super unique. Coach Creighton talks about being good people before being good volleyball players. The returning players develop team covenants over the summer. We take care of each other.”
Her mother, who has helped the Bears in a variety of ways since graduating, both as a paid coach and a volunteer, admits she got excited when she realized her girls might reach high school while the Creighton era was ongoing.
“It’s a gift to have them mentored by her,” Shelly said. “Her famous line is, ‘They’re people longer than they’re volleyball players.’ ”
The Bears comprise a young team, led by Lauren and two veterans undergoing position changes. Six-foot senior Arianna Hartsock started at middle blocker a season ago, amassing 105 kills, but may find herself at outside hitter this year. Molly Armstrong, a 5-6 sophomore, played libero in 2015, but will be the Bears’ setter this season. Calissa Lane has stood out among the newcomers.
With the position changes coinciding with the team’s league realignment, Creighton is grateful the 4A SPSL decided to play only a single round-robin league season — eight matches.
“We’re going to take the full opportunity to learn through tournaments and nonleague matches,” she said.
Olympia won’t play an SPSL match until South Kitsap visits on Sept. 27.
“I’m really enjoying this group of kids,” Creighton said. “They’re focused, motivated, competitive and coachable. I anxious to see how much they can accomplish.”