Explosive – that’s the adjective Tumwater volleyball coach Tana Otton used to describe Karlee Sampson.
It’s fitting because if you’ve ever seen the 5-foot-7 outside hitter play, you’d be hard pressed not to echo Otton’s label of the gifted senior.
Powerful, quick and consistent – all three sum up Sampson’s attack.
“I’ve always said that if you want to learn how to hit, you should make a video of Karlee and watch it over and over again,” Otton said. “Fundamentally, her swing is flawless. She does everything exactly right.”
Sampson, the Olympian’s All-Area player of the year, has been a dominant force ever since she arrived at Tumwater High School.
A rarity in the sport and even more rare in a program as deep as Tumwater’s, Sampson started as a freshman before earning first-team all-Evergreen Conference honors during her sophomore and junior seasons.
She capped her remarkable four-year run by earning MVP honors of the EvCo while leading the Thunderbirds to back-to-back second-place finishes at the Class 2A state tournament.
“She’s just a special player,” Otton said. “I’ve known her a long time and she’s always been a great athlete, but she never just relied on that. She’s always looking for ways to improve, to grow as a player.”
Sampson, whose sister, Emily, also played for Otton at Tumwater before playing at Eastern Oregon University, was introduced to the sport in first grade and became a year-round player in fourth grade.
“I basically grew up in (the Tumwater High School) gym,” Sampson said. “My sister and cousin both played there and I was just always around. Watching my sister play certainly helped, but it was just the only sport I ever wanted to play.”
Sampson got her first taste of varsity-level play prior to the start of her eighth-grade year when she was asked to play with Tumwater in a summer tournament at Seattle University.
“They didn’t have any setters,” Sampson remembered. “So I was asked to step in and play. It was an incredible experience playing with that group.”
That Tumwater squad went on to capture the 2008 state championship four months later, providing Sampson with added motivation to excel once her high school career started.
“When I arrived at Tumwater, I was a setter,” Sampson said. “They had already had two senior setters so (Otton) suggested I should move to outside hitter. After that I never played setter again.”
The change turned out to be a wise one because Sampson put together one of the most successful careers in T-Birds history.
Despite falling in the state title game to West Valley of Yakima, Sampson was one of the tournament’s top stars, averaging more than 19 kills a match and tallying a match-high 24 kills to go with 14 digs and an ace in the finals.
“She was already on everyone’s radar,” Otton said, “but I really think she opened a lot of eyes with her play during the state tournament.”
Sampson will play club volleyball until June before heading off to Central Washington University in the fall.
She has had communication with the Wildcats – who were selected to play in the NCAA Division II tournament for the first time since 2006 – about playing volleyball in Ellensburg, but is still waiting on a scholarship offer.
“That’s my dream school,” Sampson said. “Hopefully, it will work out and I’ll get to play volleyball there. It just has everything I was looking for in a school.”
The Olympian’s All-Area Volleyball team
OH Karlee Sampson, Tumwater, 5-7, senior
Sampson, The Olympian’s All-Area player of the year, has a special attack, according to coach Tana Otton. The outside hitter capped off her four-year career by earning MVP honors of the 2A Evergreen Conference and led the T-Birds to back-to-back runner-up finishes at the 2A state tournament. She hit .347 on the season and averaged 22 kills a match at state while the T-Birds went 3-1 and finished the season 20-1.
OH Dani Tabor, Capital, 6-0, senior
The Cougars’ top all-around player often led the team in kills and digs in matches, and even saw time at setter. Her play helped Capital finish eighth at the 2A state tournament – the program’s first state trophy since 2003.
OH Brittany Rutherford, North Thurston, 5-10, senior
The Rams’ go-to player was a big reason why North Thurston had its best season in school history, finishing second at the Class 3A state tournament. Rutherford ranks third in school history in kills (365) and kill percentage (.338).
MH Michaela Berendt, Olympia, 6-4, senior
Few were as big a force at the net as the Villanova-bound Berendt, who was Olympia’s first early signee in NCAA Division I volleyball since Kristen Johnson (WSU in 1997). Berendt notched 241 kills and had a .492 kill percentage. Her play at the 4A state tournament – with a season-high 20 kills against Union – helped the Bears finish fourth.
MH Riley Podowicz, Timberline, 5-11, junior
The 3A Narrows League MVP is a threat from the front and back rows on attacks and is great at reading angles – she averaged 3.6 blocks per match, including a season-best seven in one match. She helped Timberline go undefeated through the 3A Narrows League on its way to the league championship.
S Courtney Bowen, Tumwater, 5-7, senior
Bowen ran the Thunderbirds’ offense for three years, and averaged 42 assists per match at the 2A state tournament, leading the team to its fourth state trophy in seven seasons. “(We) couldn’t do what we do without her,” coach Tana Otton said.
S Hunter Manke, 5-5, TImberline, junior
Manke rewrote the school record for assists in a match (50) and had more than 500 for the season. Her all-around play – she also had 126 kills – helped the Blazers to their fourth consecutive state appearance. She also had a serving percentage of 97 percent.
L Jensyn McCoy, Black Hills, 5-6, junior
The Wolves’ defensive specialist commands the backcourt and was a big reason why the team was competitive in many matches this season, coach Kara Peterson said. She totaled 390 digs (5.1 digs per set) and also saw playing time at outside hitter.
Coach of the year: Micah McBride, North Thurston
The Rams made their first state appearance in McBride’s 13-year tenure and made the most of it in their backyard at Saint Martin’s University, advancing to the 3A state title email@example.com