But it wasn't until tryouts that the team landed another piece to its puzzle: an exchange student.
Centralia senior Jana (pronounced YAW-na) Belicova is from Slovakia and came to Centralia for this school year to study English. Little did anyone know she'd be an intricate part of the Tigers' success during their first-half run in the Class 2A Evergreen Conference, as Centralia takes its 5-2 EvCo record to Elma tonight.
"I was surprised that we could find a potential starter who would fall into our lap like that," Sharp said. "In volleyball, it's rare that you get (an exchange student) that makes the team.
"We have a very competitive group this year, and her high skills jumped right in with us."
The slim, 5-foot-8 Belicova is one of eight seniors on the Tigers' roster. She's led the team in kills and digs three times, most recently in Centralia's three-game sweep of River Ridge on Sept. 26. In that match, Belicova led the Tigers with eight kills and 20 digs.
"I love it here," Belicova said with a strong Slovakian accent. "It's all different, but it's cool for me. I've adjusted well in a short time, and volleyball has helped me."
As an outside hitter, Belicova played volleyball in Slovakia for eight years and is part of the junior national volleyball system in her home country. But having not played volleyball for two months leading up to the start of Centralia's season, Belicova got a strong taste of volleyball in the United States.
"When I first came here, I was surprised how hard it was," said Belicova, who also plans to play for the Tigers' tennis team in the spring. "I started out with all the players in the tryouts and after two days, the coaches decided to move me to the varsity, and I was excited."
And she's excited to be part of a team that's winning. Centralia hasn't made the playoffs in at least a decade, and with the Evergreen Conference slated to get five playoff spots, things couldn't be better for the Tigers as they currently sit in third place.
"They come from a place where they hope to win, but now they expect to win," Sharp said. "I know the girls and I know what kind of athletes and people they are. I knew we would have a good season."
Said Belicova: "I'm happy that I'm here. There's a lot of strong competition here. It's a lot of fun and I'm happy to be with the Tigers."
n TUMWATER'S SCHWEGLER SIGNS: Morgan Schwegler, who helped Tumwater to a second-place finish at the Class 2A state basketball tournament last season, signed a letter of intent to continue her career at The Master's College, an NAIA Division I school in Santa Clarita, Calif.
The 6-foot-1 post signed her letter of intent Sept. 25 and canceled her official visits to Santa Clara, Portland State, Cal Poly and St. Mary's.
At the beginning of the summer, Schwegler had no interest in The Master's College. But after visiting the school and talking and meeting with the coaching staff, everything fell into place.
"I was only interested in going Division I," Schwegler said. "That was my main goal."
The Master's College had been looking at Schwegler since her freshman season, when Tumwater coach Nick Greenwell contacted The Master's College coach Ken Sugarman.
"It's a small school, and the basketball team has really good players," Schwegler said. "Being a Christian and having a Christian environment ... I knew I wasn't going to find anything else."
Schwegler was a first-team All-Evergreen Conference an all-state selection last season. The Master's College, which competes in the Golden State Athletic Conference, finished last season with a 10-10 league record and 15-11 was overall. In 2005-06, the Mustangs advanced to the NAIA tournament and finished the season with a 28-8 record.
"Success is definitely very important to me," Schwegler said.
Schwegler said signing her letter of intent early before basketball season starts means that's one less thing on her mind.
"I can focus on what I need to focus on now," Schwegler said.
n NOTES: The Tumwater girls soccer team's shutout streak is tested tonight against Elma. The T-Birds haven't given up a goal in seven Evergreen Conference games this season. … Two of the Class 3A Western Cascade Conference's best football teams square off tonight at South Sound Stadium. Top-ranked Lakes (5-0) travels to take on North Thurston (4-1) at 7 p.m. … Black Hills running back Cody Peterson leads Class 2A in rushing with 931 yards on 164 carries. … Prosser senior Cody Bruns set a new receiving record last week in the Mustangs' 63-0 victory over Toppenish. Bruns caught seven passes for 144 yards, which gave him 4,088 career receiving yards. He passed Joe Levens of DeSales, who had 4,017 receiving yards from 1994-97. Bruns already is the state's all-time leader in career touchdown catches with 59.
Meg Wochnick can be reached at 360- 754-5473 or email@example.com.