OLYMPIA – Every once in awhile, Olympia High School senior middle hitter Michaela Berendt stops and thinks what would she be doing if volleyball hadn’t become a big part of her life. She fell into it as a middle school student, and it simply stuck.
“I probably would have a lot more (free) time,” Berendt said.
At 6-foot-4, Berendt is a towering presence at the net for the Bears’ volleyball team, the tallest player to come through the program during coach Laurie Creighton’s 34-year tenure as coach.
Olympia, the defending Class 4A state champion, continues its postseason run this weekend at the 4A West Central/Southwest bi-district tournament, which begins Friday at Kentwood High School. The Bears face Kentridge at 1 p.m. looking to qualify for the state tournament, to be held Nov. 9-10 at Saint Martin’s Marcus Pavilion for the fifth consecutive year.
Many of Thurston County’s top volleyball players began playing during their elementary school days, but not Berendt. She got a late start and slowly transformed into a high school varsity player and a dominant force.
At Olympia’s St. Michael’s Parish School, volleyball was the only fall sport offered to middle-school students. She decided to turned out, and it was one of the few places where she felt “being tall was cool.” At age 12, she was already 5-foot-11.
“Having volleyball provided opportunities for me to be more confident in myself and in my height,” Berendt said. “It created an environment where being different was an asset and a positive thing.”
Now the former musical-theater star, who once stood a head above everyone else in her class, is being recruited for NCAA Division I volleyball. She orally committed to Villanova over the summer after visiting the Philadelphia-area campus, and can sign her letter of intent as early as Nov. 14 during the early signing period.
Through the team’s first six matches this season, Berendt averaged 9.5 kills and 3.1 blocks. But in a 3-0 sweep of Yelm on Sept. 24, she suffered an avulsion fracture in her left elbow and a hyperextension, which caused her to miss four matches. The Bears went 2-2 while she was out, but she said being on the bench soaking up knowledge was enlightening.
“I definitely had a lot more fire,” Berendt said. “It made me a stronger player. Learning how to be that mental and emotional supportive teammate was something I learned in that process and it made me a better leader.”
In her first match back, Oct. 16 against visiting South Kitsap, Berendt registered nine kills, second-best behind a team-high 11 kills by outside hitter Rachel Kelson. But she made the difference with her career-best six aces, including three in a row to end the match in the third set after the Bears trailed by two points late.
It marked a big change for a player who labeled herself “uncoordinated” early in her high school career. Creighton said it was the first time Berendt jump-served, and her run of match-ending aces came when Olympia was trailing in the third set.
“It’s a new weapon that appeared out of nowhere for us,” Creighton said. “When she gets in a zone, she can have a beast mode, and she’s tough to deal with.”
Olympia has dealt with injuries for a good portion of the season, but is peaking at the right time. The Bears reached the title match of the annual Capitol City Volleyball Invitational on Oct. 20, defeating two teams – Capital and 4A Narrows rival Gig Harbor – before losing to Tumwater. The Bears will be the 4A Narrows League’s third seed at the district tournament after defeating Stadium and Central Kitsap at the league tournament at Tacoma’s Mount Tahoma High School over the past weekend. They need to win two matches to earn a state berth.
“We’ve started playing cohesively and consistently well and at a level that I’m excited to come back into the practice gym and work to see how we can improve for the next time,” Berendt said. “It’s time for me to try to give as much as I can to the younger kids. I’ve already won state and had that opportunity. It’s not about my journey anymore.”Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 email@example.com www.theolympian.com/southsoundsports