The past three seasons have ended in disappointment for the Kentridge High School volleyball team. Each year, the Chargers needed one victory to advance to the state tournament but didn’t get it.
Last year, the Chargers had two chances to get that one win, and both times it eluded them.
This season’s team made sure their season didn’t come down to one dramatic moment. They are going to the state tournament for the first time since 2001, and they enter it undefeated and as the top-ranked Class 4A team in the state.
Coming so close the past three years has been an emotional experience for the girls and the coaching staff. Though the Chargers have won 22 straight, that emotion came out when they finally clinched a trip to state.
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“Tears and joy,” coach Eric Han said. “They were just excited to be with each other.”
After not making it to the state playoffs for 17 years, and coming so close the previous three, the idea of an undefeated state championship season may seem a little far-fetched, but it’s a real possibility for the Chargers — and Han thinks it would make a great movie script.
“I think capping it off with some kind of a title, we don’t really care if it’s seventh, eighth, ninth or first, being there is an honor,” Han said. “But capping it off (with a championship) would absolutely be a fairy-tale, storybook, movie-type ending. That would be amazing.”
Han took over Kentridge’s program in 2015, so he’s gone through the ups and downs with this group of seniors.
He will leave at the end of the season to take a job as an assistant coach with the University of Puget Sound, but would like to see the group of seniors he’s coached for four years go out on top.
One of those seniors is outside hitter Zaiah Luna-Calvin, who has been one of the leaders for the Chargers all season.
“Last year, I would honestly hold my breath sometimes when she went up to hit, pass or serve,” Han said. “I really didn’t know half the time if she was going to hit the bottom of the net or get a kill straight down.
“Now, I know she’s going to get a kill. That’s how confident I am in her now. The offseason was very important to her. She put in the time, the work and the money to play a high-level of club (volleyball), and get to this point. Deservingly, she got MVP of our league and leads the league in kills.”
When the Chargers clinched their trip to state, Luna-Calvin said it was an emotional experience.
“It was like a dream come true,” Luna-Calvin said. “This year, it was heartwarming and it was emotional. Even our coach, who doesn’t show that much emotion, showed so much emotion, and he was so proud of us.”
For Luna-Calvin and the other players on the team, the previous years of disappointment serves as motivation to find success at this year’s state tournament.
“If we perform, play our brand of volleyball and stay confident, I’m fine with how they play — win, lose or draw,” Han said. “But they always go into a game with underdog mentality, even though they are 22-0.
“Anyone who comes to a practice or listens to the girls when they talk to each other when they’re playing a match, it’s always an underdog mentality because they’ve never been in this position before. I think it’s good for them.”
Han said the team’s success has had a lot to do with his seniors.
“I think the cohesion with a lot of the girls playing together for the last three or four years (led to the success),” Han said. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts is absolutely true with this team. We kind of all came together and we’re at the pinnacle, I guess, at this point.”