More than four decades have passed since Washington High School won its only state volleyball title in 1977.
The Patriots have made eight appearances in the state tournament since – including last season – but haven’t earned another trophy.
But this year, longtime coach Paul Souza and his young squad believe they could be the group to bring a trophy back home to Tacoma.
“I’ve been coaching here for 22 years now, and the difference is, (before) now, I’ve never had more than one club player. This year I have eight,” Souza said, noting the high school program has encouraged its players to try club volleyball.
“That’s a huge difference. We’ve had top players here, but we’ve never had a team of players. This is the best core I’ve ever had as far as a full team.”
Entering Saturday’s Class 2A state playoffs, the Patriots (19-0) are undefeated – excluding midseason tournament pool play – and looking to improve on last season’s two-and-out finish at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey.
“This year, we’ve become more focused, and we’re more prepared, and I really think we have a chance,” sophomore setter Noelani Souza said.
Though still a young team – no one on the roster will graduate after this season – the Patriots returned most of their state-qualifying squad from a year ago.
Besides the experience gained in club-level play and last year’s state tournament, Paul Souza credits the help of his assistant coaches for Washington’s success.
The Patriots have posted 14 shutouts this season on their way to undefeated 2A SPSL and 2A West Central District titles.
Their closest match came in a 3-2 win over perennial power Fife in the league title game, but the Patriots have otherwise not dropped more than one set to an opponent in a single match.
Washington has dropped just six total sets this season, all in regular-season or league-tournament matches, and swept River Ridge, Fife and White River for the district title last week.
“Every year we sit down before we start and we set goals,” Noelani Souza said. “We started out with winning league, winning districts, and now we’re going to try to win state.”
Noelani Souza, who is Paul Souza’s granddaughter and has grown up around Washington’s program, is one of several players on this year’s squad who have made a significant impact.
She has a team-leading 429 assists, 111 digs and 61 aces as the team’s setter, and can play above the net, chipping in 55 kills despite standing at 5-foot-3.
“She can be dangerous hitting as much as setting,” Paul Souza said.
Washington also features juniors Puka Luteru and Moeshana Maiava, who were voted co-MVPs in the 2A SPSL East this season.
Luteru, a 5-9 middle blocker, and three-year varsity player for the Patriots, has a team-leading 59 blocks and 109 service receptions. She’s also added 158 kills and 57 assists.
“Puka has been with us for three years,” Paul Souza said. “She’s been the captain for three years. She’s been the leader of this team, physically and mentally. She’s the one who gives pep talks to all of the girls.”
Maiava, who transferred from Foster this year, is Washington’s dominant 5-9 outside hitter. She has a team-leading 183 kills, and has added 106 digs and 29 blocks.
Though Maiava is primarily a track and field star – she placed fifth in 2A in the shot put as a freshman at Foster, and seventh as a sophomore – Paul Souza said she has been a big addition to the Patriots’ volleyball team.
“This is her second sport,” he said. “Track is her No. 1 sport. And, for somebody who this is their second sport, she’s quite the accomplished athlete.”
Maiava is one of Washington’s strongest hitters – she also throws discus and javelin in the spring, which enhances her arm strength – and said she tries to lead by example.
“I’m super excited and super blessed as well. I’m happy for me and my girls that we’ve come this far,” she said.
As dominant as Washington has been in the South Sound this season, the road to a state trophy this weekend is exceptionally tough.
The Patriots open against defending state champion Burlington-Edison — which has won four of the past seven 2A titles — at 11 a.m. Friday.
And a win or loss in that match will set up a meeting with either Ridgefield or Pullman, which are both ranked in the top five in 2A in the Washington State Volleyball Coaches Association’s most recent poll.
But, despite staring down some of the state’s toughest programs early on, the Patriots believe they have the tools to end their four-decade state trophy drought.
“I feel like we can,” Luteru said. “They say the team with the best ball control controls the game. If we control the game, we win the game.
“Volleyball starts with passing, and I feel like our passes are really there to help our setter set up our hitters. And our hitters, we dominate.”