Gateway: Sports

Trending upward, Peninsula volleyball hopes to take biggest leap yet

It’s been a steady upward climb for the Peninsula volleyball team.

In 2016, the Seahawks didn’t win a game. The next year, they were 6-10 overall and made it to the playoffs. Last year, in 2018, they were one win away from making it to state.

Now the Seahawks want to take the next step and make a run to the state tournament. They are playing under the leadership of coach Katrina Cardinal who has high hopes for the team as they have put in time in the offseason to set them up for success.

“The girls have worked really hard this summer,” Cardinal said. “We’re trying to come in basically from where we left off it not being better than where we were when we left off.”

Where did the team leave off? They had battled their way to being right on the cusp of making it to state only to lose 3-0 to Mountain View.

“The final game that we were in, it was a little bit of a letdown,” Cardinal said.

Part of the reason for that letdown? The team had won a big match against North Thurston 3-2 just prior to facing off in what would their final game, where a combination of inexperience and exhaustion got the better of them.

“They were so fired up and there was so much energy,” Cardinal recalled. “We just kept making error after error. We had thirteen ball handling errors in that final game. That was so frustrating.”

The team has focused that frustration to better motivate them to not repeat the same mistakes and refocus after their less than favorable finish.

“It was such a nightmare finish for being on such a high to end in such disarray,” Cardinal said. “This year coming in they will be so much more prepared and we’ll still be able to battle even after having the highest of highs.”

In order to keep on track and focus the team has buckled down to put themselves back in a position for success this year.

“They’ve made a commitment to the program and to their teammates,” Cardinal said. “It’s been pretty incredible to witness, to watch their dedication this summer.”

What are some specific things the team are doing to improve their game? Focusing on being efficient.

“Volleyball is such a technical sport. Everybody has a different style and a different technique,” Cardinal said. “Sometimes that makes kids think too much and they lose their focus. We’re trying to eliminate all the extras: the extra movements, the extra jumpiness, the extra flair that people would put into things. Just to clean up and simplify movement patterns, gameplay, transitions.”

The Seahawks have a deep team made of players that each bring their own individual strengths to the court.

Starting off is Laney Lovrovich and Maeve Griffin who are both returning veterans for the team. Griffin was named all-league MVP and Lovrovich was named first-team.

“Those girls are fantastic,” Cardinal said. “They bring leadership and power. They bring ball control. They bring court awareness and smart gameplay.”

Another strong asset for the team is Josephine Hampton who has gained a unique nickname from her fellow teammates and has stood out in high stakes situations.

“The kids call her the magician. She’s magic in the middle. She rescued us in playoffs last year. We were down by nine points in our game against North Thurston,” Cardinal said. “Josie rattled off seven points to bring us back. She just is an incredible kid.”

One of the things the team also has going for it is players who can be adaptable with not only moving into new positions but thriving in those positions.

“We have Zoe Erkers who has worked her butt off going from an outside hitter to a right side hitter and then to move into the setting position last year without having any setting experience,” Cardinal said. “To take ownership of that role and be our number one, she’s just done a fantastic job for us.”

“Tommi Gallucci is returning as well. She was a second team all-league player last year for us as a freshman,” Cardinal said. “We have a new transfer who is pretty exciting. Her name is Annika Christensen and she has got a fast swing. She’s learning the ropes in our program, which has been really fun to see, but also challenging those outside hitters for their spots. It’s good competition in our gym right now and it’s really exciting to see the depth be built.”

As for the coach behind it all, Cardinal has been around for quite a while. She was the school’s volleyball coach from 1998 to 2005, before taking time away from the team to spend more time with her kids. She then returned in 2017. She also has experience having played volleyball herself competitively until she was about 38. A graduate of Peninsula herself, she attended Eastern Washington University where she played Division I volleyball. It is with this breadth of experience that she has been able to view her team with new wisdom.

“For me as a coach, I think I see the job differently than I did the first time around,” Cardinal reflected.

“I look at volleyball as being more about building character in kids and teaching them how to succeed and fail and do it in a safe environment. To build confident and strong women over volleyball players. It’s just a different perspective I think. I think that’s me growing as a mom, having kids of my own, and having a different perspective on life.”

One of those things that the team has valued was when they were named the WIAA 2018 Academic State Championship award in their classification after compiling a 3.79 team-wide grade point average. This emphasis on the student part of being student athletes was something Cardinal praised.

“I am very proud of them,” Cardinal said. “The thing about the kids that I love is that they put their academics first. It was never anything that I had to say to them. I’ve not had to say anything about their grades or their homework. It’s just been ingrained in them and they support one another. You see these little pockets, when we go to games, you see these pockets of the team with their books out on their laps and they’re supporting one another and they’re doing study groups together.”

With all that being said, the team still has aspirations of being successful on the court as well as off the court.

“We talk about being academic champions as well as volleyball champions,” Cardinal said. ““We want to be on the floors of the SunDome in November and that’s what we’re working towards.”

What would it mean for the team to make it to state? It would mean everything to this team after working so hard to improve.

“This is everything that they’ve been working for,” Cardinal said. “They’re competitors and they see beyond just the traditional season. They see beyond league play. They’re looking further and further down the road.”

The team has a surplus of drive and desire to succeed this season which is going to be carrying them forward as they contemplate the legacy they will leave behind.

“They are those kids that are looking at the wall and wanting their year on that banner,” Cardinal said. “It gives them a lifetime of a story to tell and that’s what it means to them. It’s pretty exciting to watch them work for it.”