If it looks like the state Class 2A volleyball tournament beginning today at Saint Martin’s University is packed full of powerhouse teams, it is.
To which the Tumwater Thunderbirds say: Bring it on. You should have seen our district.
The unbeaten and No. 1-ranked T-Birds (18-0) emerged as champions of the Southwest Washington District 4 tournament in Woodland last weekend after outlasting Greater St. Helens League champ and state No. 3 Ridgefield in five grueling sets in the final.
Woodland, the state’s No. 4-ranked team, is the third seed from District 4 after a 3-2 consolation-final victory over Columbia River, also of the GSHL, which had the misfortune of being a close fourth in a district that sent three teams to state.
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“It was a fight just to get here,” Tumwater coach Tana Otton said this week.
At state, it gets tougher, with teams lying in wait that, like the T-Birds, traditionally rate among the best volleyball programs in Washington.
Otton’s tenure at Tumwater, now in its 14th season, includes state championships in 2014 and 2008 and runner-up finishes in 2012, 2011 and 2007.
Should Tumwater get past its 9 a.m. opener Friday against Pullman (11-7), next up could be Burlington-Edison, the defending 2A champion and state titlist in 2013 and 2011 (over Tumwater in the final).
Burlington-Edison (13-5) is having a down year on paper, but the Tigers gathered momentum last weekend by clawing through the losers’ bracket to claim the third seed from Northwest District 1/2.
Archbishop Murphy, ranked No. 2 in the state, is in the T-Birds’ half of the bracket and could be a semifinal collision if both teams advance.
If it’s a fight that’s needed, the 2016 T-Birds are equipped to bring it, Otton said.
“With this team in particular, I’ve watched them pick themselves out of holes,” she said. “They have the mentality that they refuse to lose.”
The leadership of junior outside hitter Kennedy Croft and senior setter Maddy Pilon is at the core of the T-Birds’ fierce will to win, Otton said.
“The thing about them,” Otton said of her two captains, “is they’re the most competitive human beings I think I’ve ever seen.”
Otton took pains to point out that Pilon and Croft bring plenty of game, too, as measured in two lofty records set in the victory over Ridgefield in the district championship game. Pilon blew past her own school record with 63 assists, while Croft set a school mark with 46 kills.
Otton knows little about opening opponent Pullman, other than the Greyhounds belong in the ultracompetitive field. The Greyhounds, District 7’s No. 2, have a state pedigree, too, with 2A titles in 2010, 2009 and 2005.
“We’ll just go in and play our game and make adjustments if we need to,” Otton said. “You’ve got to beat ’em all to get where you want to, anyway.”