High School Sports

Pukis on the left, Pukis on the right — and possibly a Bellarmine Prep 4A volleyball title straight ahead

It is a habit now — one only shared and understood between sisters.

When the two-time defending 4A state volleyball champion Bellarmine Prep hits the floor, a subtle yet distinct gesture happens in between points.

Senior Reghan Pukis and ninth grader Hannah Pukis — both starting as outside hitters — twitch, then touch hands as a sign of solidarity.

“We’ve done that since we started playing beach volleyball together,” Reghan said.

“Our dad said we needed a way,” Hannah said, “to communicate better.”

These days, as the Lions prepare to defend their 4A title starting Friday at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, the Pukis siblings are speaking loud and clear.

Reghan is the smashing hitter — the team’s primary offensive weapon after three-time All-Area player of the year Courtney Schwan graduated and went off to the University of Washington. Reghan was voted the 4A Narrows most valuable player this season.

Not to be underestimated, but quite possibly it is Hannah’s stunning emergence as the smooth right-side hitter that has helped Bellarmine Prep fit all the pieces together for what it hopes leads to a third consecutive state title.

“As we’ve moved her to that right-side spot, it became clear that it strengthened our team,” Lions coach Jody DeGroot said. “She is fairly dangerous over there.”

DeGroot knew coming into this season that her team would go through an adjustment period after Schwan moved on, as did All-Area libero Julia Wright and impactful reserve middle hitter Emilie Newberry.

In the preseason, DeGroot and her staff held different types of tournaments to grade out players.

“We had a right side hitter tournament,” DeGroot said. “Hannah was heads-above the other girls.”

But DeGroot grappled with the fact that Hannah was an incoming ninth grader — and that her natural position was at setter where Natalie Jensen is entrenched as the starter.

Finally at the end of September, Hannah — who is left-handed — was inserted into the starting lineup on the right side for good. And the Lions have gone undefeated since that point.

“It’s been weird,” Hannah said. “Sometimes it gets frustrating because I am so used to controlling the play.

“With somebody else (setting), it has helped me to learn to trust them. And it allows me to play my separate game as opposed to worrying about everyone else’s game.”

The move has allowed the two sisters to play together in six-player court volleyball for the only time in their careers. Reghan will graduate in the spring, and head off to UNLV on a college scholarship.

The two have played together on the beach-volleyball circuit for the past five years.

And it happened almost accidentally.

“In one of the tournaments, our partners were sick. So we became partners,” Hannah said. “We were Pukis and Pukis.”

The two siblings have played doubles in some of the Alki Volleyball Association events in Seattle that take place from June through August. They also compete in separate age-specific divisions with other partners from their Kent Juniors club program.

They’ve also played in the prestigious Seaside (Oregon) Beach Volleyball Tournament in August. In 2013, Hannah took second in the under-14 girls doubles division, and Reghan took third in the U-16 division.

“We’ve grown our skills together,“ Reghan said.

And this weekend, they hope to share one common goal together — a 4A title.

“I love it,“ Reghan said. “This has been so much fun. We are super close. So it is good to have my best friend out there with me.”