LACEY — Tucked away behind the gymnasium at Saint Martin’s University’s Marcus Pavilion is Kara Peterson’s office, shared with her assistant, Kelly Kavanaugh.
Plastered on the walls are remembrances of the success she had in 15 years as Black Hills High School’s volleyball coach, where she led the Wolves to 12 state tournament appearances while compiling a 213-93 (.696 winning percentage) record.
“This couldn’t have happened at a better time,” Peterson said. “I feel like I have the experience necessary to do this well.”
One photo in Peterson’s office is of a young Kristyn Ross, now a junior outside hitter for the Saints. Ross was a member of an all-star club team, Ohana Volleyball Club, coached by Peterson six years ago. Ross, a 2011 Capital High graduate, played high school volleyball with Peterson’s daughter, Brenna.
Ross said Peterson’s coaching style and how she runs the game has her thrilled for a new chapter in her volleyball career.
“I was excited to get that back,” said Ross, the Great Northwest Athletic Conference’s co-freshman of the year in 2011.
Peterson’s challenge is heading up a Saints program that has struggled in the GNAC. The program hasn’t finished higher than eighth in the GNAC since the conference’s inaugural year in 2001.
A preseason poll of coaches predicted SMU will finish tied for ninth with Simon Fraser in the 10-team league. But Saints players can already feel the culture changing under Peterson, who said she’s in “a perfect situation” and in the right place in her career to coach in college.
Players quickly gained respect for Peterson. Setter Cymbree Decosta, a fifth-year senior who ranked 15th in the GNAC last season with 3.74 assists per set, complimented Peterson’s positive changes, such as intense practices and playing a faster tempo.
“That will help us a lot,” Decosta said. “I want this season to be the best we’ve ever done, and I’m confident that we can.”
It has been a whirlwind for Peterson since being hired in February. Peterson, who played at the University of Washington in the early 1980s, hired a staff and put together her first recruiting class; the program had no commitments with the signing date looming in mid-April. Kavanaugh was a former volunteer assistant at Alaska Anchorage and Jessica Levine, another assistant, was a former Central Washington player after being a standout player at Black Hills under Peterson.
Peterson’s recruiting class of five freshmen features “versatile, athletic and competitive” middle hitter Hope Mortensen.
“I know that anything she does with this team is going to turn it around and put us in a good spot,” said Mortensen, who played for Peterson at Black Hills.
Playing for her high school coach for another four years was a big reason Mortensen picked the Saints after looking out of state. She knows the high standards and expectations Peterson has for her players lead to success.
“She expects a lot and no matter what, we’re going to be working hard,” said Mortensen, who also plans to compete in track. “It makes me feel really confident.”
Peterson is big on building traditions, and plans to do so at Saint Martin’s. She said bringing in new faces, and raising expectations, is the start of something positive for the Saints.
“You can feel that excitement,” Peterson said.
Saint Martin’s University Saints
Coach: Kara Peterson, first year
2012 record: 6-18 overall, 3-15 GNAC (ninth place)
Returning starters: 3, plus libero
Top players: OH Kristyn Ross, 5-10, jr.; OH Carrie Starbuck, 5-10, so.; MH Kyra Davidson, 6-2, so.; L Halee Hernandez, 5-3, jr.; S Cymbree Decosta, 5-8, sr.; S Candice Pedroza, 5-5, jr.; OH Shea-Linn White, 5-9, so.; L Kristin Okamura, 5-0, sr.
Outlook: Experience is on the Saints’ side. Of the 17 players on the roster, 11 are returning letterwinners. SMU also is big upfront, featuring five players 6 feet or taller. Four players on the roster (Ross, Hernandez, Julia Wabinga, Hope Mortensen) are South Sound natives.
Coach: Rob Walker, seventh year
2012 record: 3-15 overall, 2-12 GNAC (eighth place)
Returning starters: 6
Top players: MF CJ Chu, 5-11, sr.; F Dylan Gaydosh, 6-1, sr.; F Matt Olson, 5-7, jr.; MF Ivan Gonzalez, 6-0, sr.; D Luke Chouinard, 6-2, jr.; GK JJ Olson, 5-11, jr.; M Emil Kirov, 5-10, so.
Outlook: Both of the Saints’ GNAC all-conference honorees — Gaydosh and Chu (both honorable mention) are two of nine returning players who saw action in at least 10 games. Gaydosh’s eight goals were a team high, and the defense is looking for a fresh start after allowing a conference-worst 61 goals in 2012.
Coach: Rob Walker, seventh year
2012 record: 7-9-2 overall, 5-7-2 GNAC (fifth place)
Returning starters: 6
Top players: MF/F Ashley Richardson, 5-3, jr.; MF/F Sasha Dini, 5-7, jr.; F/MF Hanna Massee, 5-5, jr.; D Molly Campbell, 5-8, sr.; D Sammi Thompson, 5-8, sr.; MF/D Clarissa Strayer, 5-7, jr.; GK Gina Cardenas, 5-10, sr.; MF/D Kari Inch, 5-1, jr.; D Jessica Christian, 5-11, jr.; MF Nikki Roberts, 5-7, jr.; D Randi Mielke, 5-4, jr.; Kailey Fuegmann, D/MF, 5-7, jr.; MF Maddie Cecil, 5-6, so.; F Maddie Hibbard, 5-3, so.
Outlook: The Saints are junior-heavy (10), paced by Richardson, the GNAC’s freshman of the year in 2011. Scoring was hard to come by in 2012 (19 goals, 157 total shots), but Campbell and Thompson, an Olympia High graduate, anchor the defense and combined for more than 2,400 minutes of action. Cardenas takes over as starting goalkeeper after seeing action in seven matches (12 saves).
Coach: Jason McConnell, first year
2012 conference finish: Men — 10th; women — 10th
Top athletes: Men — Joe Berger, sr.; Josiah Shelman, so., Alex Nelson, jr.; Aaron Michael, so.; Women — Erika Crock, sr; Justine Malek, so.; Betty Ramirez, jr.
Outlook: The Saints are adjusting to McConnell, who formerly coached at his alma mater, The Evergreen State College. He was hired Aug. 20. While no Saints participated in the 2012 regionals, Berger (57th), who sports a 4.0 GPA and Crock (68) paced the SMU men and women, respectively, at the GNAC championships.
Coach: Kevin Bishop (men); Bob Grisham (women)
2012 record: Men — second at GNAC championships; women — second at GNAC championships
Top athletes: Men — Ben Fosnick, jr.; Ryan Pickthorn, so.; Women — Mandy Wittmier, sr.; Sarah Salvatori, so.
Outlook: Last spring marked the sixth consecutive year the Saints men had representation at the NCAA regional, co-hosted by Saint Martin’s at The Home Course, where Fosnick tied for 89th (228). Wittmier paced the Saints with a fifth-place finish at the GNAC championships. She and Salvatori finished fifth and sixth, respectively, in GNAC scoring average. Both men and women have three fall tournaments before resuming the split season in the spring.
The Evergreen State College Geoducks
Coach: Angela Spoja, first year
2012 record: 0-27 overall, 0-18 Cascade Collegiate Conference (10th place)
Returning starters: 4
Top players: OH Cassidy Watkins, 5-9, sr.; OH Molly King, 5-11, jr.; MB Victoria Love, 6-1, jr.; L Meredith Gurr Theinert, 5-5, sr.; OH Natimia Barker-Doss, 5-4, jr.; MB Brittany Covert, 6-2, sr.
Outlook: Evergreen broke through and won its first match in 52 tries with a 3-1 win over Montana Western in an early season tournament in Spokane under Spoja, who led Tacoma Community College to a 155-60 mark in eight seasons. Gurr Theinert, King and Shelby Clark, a Black Hills graduate, played for Spoja at TCC.
Coach: John Purtteman, eighth year
2012 record: 13-6 overall, 12-2 CCC (second place)
Returning starters: 9
Top players: F Willie Spurr, 5-11, so.; D Brady Espinoza, 5-8, sr.; F Dyson Fowler, 5-9, sr.; F Jeff Roland, 5-11, sr.; MF Jack Fortune, 5-11, sr.; MF Joseph Ademofe, 5-7, sr.; D Kodey Eley, 5-9, jr.; MF Ethan Sumlin, 5-9, jr.; GK Collin Harlow, 6-3, sr.; GK Mauricio Sanchez, 6-4, sr.
Outlook: More could be in store for Evergreen after its best season since 2005 — a second-place Cascade Collegiate Conference finish and a trip to the conference title game. Espinoza and Spurr are the conference’s reigning defensive and newcomers of the year, respectively. Already at 1-0-1, including a tie against No. 22-ranked Rocky Mountain College, the Geoducks received votes in the preseason NAIA Top 25 poll.
Coach: Adam Fenster, fourth year
2012 record: 2-11-1 overall, 2-7-0 CCC (eighth)
Returning starters: 4
Top players: F Rayna Murphy, 5-2, jr.; GK Kaitlin MacKenzie, 5-5, sr.; MF Sophie Krauza, 5-5, sr.
Outlook: The Geoducks welcome back Murphy, the team’s leading scorer in 2012 with three goals, while MacKenzie ranked seventh in the CCC in save percentage (.698). Nine freshmen round out the roster, including Capital High graduate Loren Switzer, the 2A EvCo defensive MVP as a senior.
Coach: Chris Ertman
2012 record: Men — no team placing at CCC championships; Women — no team placing at CCC championships
Top athletes: Men — Aaron Jones, jr.; women — Jamie Cummins, so.
Outlook: Jones was one of three men representing Evergreen at the CCC championships last fall. He placed 66th (28:26.41) in the 8-kilometer race. Both teams’ first meet is Saturday at the Apple Ridge Run in Yakima.
South Puget Sound Community College Clippers
Coach: Brian Davis, sixth year
2012 record: 2-15-2 overall, 2-10-1 (NWAACC South)
Returning players: 7
Top players: GK Devon Dieckman, 5-10, so.; MF Alex Nunez, 5-7, fr.; F Barrett Walhmark, 6-1, so.; D Jacob Coffman, 5-8, so.; F Taylor Weatherly, 5-10, so.
Outlook: A strength for the Clippers is a quick and versatile midfield, paced by Nunez, a Shelton High graduate, who already has two goals this season. Fourteen of the roster’s 17 players have South Sound connections, including a pair each from Shelton (Nunez, Erik Mendiola), Capital (Dustin Loffler, Ethen Myers), Tumwater (Dieckman, Jordan Prince) and Yelm (Jason Cisneros, Oscar Alverez).Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org theolympian.com/southsoundsports @MegWochnick email@example.com