Capital High School went into its volleyball match at Gig Harbor last week undefeated, having swept its five most recent opponents.
When the sixth-ranked Cougars lost, 3-1, allowing the Tides to join them in a first-place tie in the Class 3A South Sound Conference, there was a crackdown at the next day’s practice.
If a player touched the net, the team launched into a series of 10 burpees. If two serves were missed in a row, time for sit-ups or sprints.
Nothing unusual, except the discipline didn’t come from the coaching staff, but the players.
“Our preparation made the difference in that loss,” senior setter Tia Grow said. “If we’d held ourselves more accountable and had better practices beforehand, we’d have been more successful. Adding pressure gives us a realistic game-time scenario.”
Second-year coach Katie Turcotte wasn’t surprised her team took it upon themselves to raise the standard.
“All our girls have a great mindset,” she said. “They want to get better and keep learning. They genuinely love playing volleyball together.”
Capital returned six seniors this season, including three all-league selections in senior libero Elise Meath – last year’s defensive MVP –sophomore outside hitter Maia Nichols, and Grow.
Two players in the freshman class have been just as pivotal. Devyn Oestrreich, a 5-foot-11 outside hitter, has a .384 hitting percentage. Madison Nichols, 5-5, has stepped into a middle blocker role, after spending most of her club volleyball career as a defensive specialist.
“The new additions are very talented,” said Meath, who leads Capital in both digs (six per set) and serve receptions (four). “Having them makes everyone better. They challenge the older players to hang onto their spots.”
Grow, who believes this will be her final season of volleyball, with Air Force ROTC at the University of Washington or UCLA her future focus, agrees.
“It’s not like we have a first string and a second string,” she said. “All of us are such solid players, we could have any six girls out there and be successful.”
“We have absolute faith we can put any player on the court and they’ll take care of business,” Turcotte added.
Turcotte strives to involve personal development and top-to-bottom unity. Grow, Meath and junior hitter Betsy Knutson-Keller are considered program-wide captains, not simply the leaders of the varsity team.
A seasonal theme of “Purpose” has been broken down into weekly points of emphasis — “Passion, Unity, Respect,” etc.
“There’s a lot of character building as well as skill development,” said Meath, who is considering playing at San Diego City College next season, or attending Arizona State or Boise State and focusing on a major in education or sports management.
Turcotte has a strong appreciation for what Grow and Meath bring to the court.
“Elise is a fierce competitor,” Turcotte said. “She gets to a lot of balls other players wouldn’t.
“Tia’s our vocal leader, you always hear her talking. She’s unselfish, setting up our hitters so they can do the fun stuff.”
With the loss to defending 3A SSC champion Gig Harbor leaving both teams with 7-1 marks, and with local rival Timberline hanging around at 6-2, the Cougars realize they have more work to do if they hope to have a successful postseason.
“We all need to focus a little more on getting the ball up and over the net,” Maia Nichols said. “If we keep getting better on defense, we could go far.”
Meath thinks she and her teammates need to smooth out an area where the group’s closeness and chemistry can work against it.
“Our closeness and how honest we can be with each other is great,” she said. “But we’re such good friends we can get distracted easily in practice, talking about different things. We need to find a happy medium and stay on task.”