There was no drama last year. This year there has been some drama.
Last year’s Auburn Riverside High School volleyball team was the epitome of cohesive. This year’s team is getting there.
Carson Heilborn, a setter who went on to earn the 2014 Gatorade Washington volleyball player of the year, was on last year’s team. This one has a Heilborn, too, only she’s a sophomore outside hitter.
So this year’s Ravens are nothing like last year’s 3A state championship team ... except that they won their second consecutive 3A South Puget Sound League title, have a 24-2 record and a 28-match win streak in league play dating to the start last season — Auburn Riverside’s first in Class 3A after moving down from 4A.
“That was a once-in-a-lifetime team,” said Calley Heilborn, whose older sister plays at the University of New Mexico. “It was just so good. I don’t think teams realize that we aren’t the same team as last year. So it’s kind of been fun to prove to them that we are good this year and we have a chance to make it. We are kind of proving that to ourselves.”
For all the new faces, style of play and personalities, it’s all added up to the same unbeaten, top-ranked Auburn Riverside in the standings. The Ravens enter the 3A West Central/Southwest district tournament at 3:30 p.m. Friday with a first-round match against Auburn.
Not that it’s been easy.
The Ravens lost seven seniors from last year’s team. Kiana Drumheller and Kasey Holand inherited greater leadership roles, and coach Chris Leverenz said the younger Heilborn went from seeing about one in every five balls go her way last season to about a third of them this year.
And it might be a more balanced group. Drumheller leads the team with 188 kills and 121 digs. Then there’s Holand with 164 kills and Heilborn with 144.
“I know it’s not going to happen, but it would be nice to not have the pressure to stand in last year’s shoes and being in the shadow of last year’s team,” Leverenz said. “We are completely different people, but I still think people put us in the same light. These aren’t even the same kids.”
Last year’s team had strong personalities. This year’s group is lighter. Leverenz said she can’t put Drumheller and Clarice Buchanan in the same group during drills because they’ll get too goofy.
Not to mention the growing pains.
“One of the things that was so awesome about last year’s team was that there was no drama. But early on this season we had some drama,” Leverenz said. “I think this year we had to have some tough conversations about ‘What is your role?’
“I’ve had to do some confronting and I am very honest with kids. I will point out their behaviors, and I’ve had to do that a little bit more this year. But just a little bit. It’s just been a longer work-in-progress this year.”
Auburn Mountainview was supposed to be this year’s Auburn Riverside. But the Ravens beat AMV both times they played each other this season — both in four sets.
“We’ve had to be a lot more strategic,” Drumheller said. “Everybody was a hitting option last year. This year we’ve had to really work for it and think of different ways of how we can get the ball down.”
“I think it’s been one step at a time that we’ve been realizing our potential,” Holand said. “Now we aren’t going to settle for anything less.”
Auburn Riverside has lost only four sets all season in nontournament play.
It may not be the same style, but Leverenz believes it could produce the same results at the end of the season.
“When push comes to shove, I want to be a state champion again just like anybody else,” said Leverenz, who has coached Auburn Riverside volleyball since it came into existence 21 years ago. “Once you get that feeling, it’s like something you don’t want to live without. There is no better feeling.”
No matter what the team looks like.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
The Auburn Riverside volleyball team has three players with at least 140 kills in seniors Kasey Holand and Kiana Drumheller, as well as Calley Heilborn. They, as well as libero Clarice Buchanan, are the only returning players from last year’s undefeated, 3A state title-winning team. Buchanan leads the Ravens with 156 digs.