A fourth-place finish in the Class 3A state volleyball tournament a year ago was nothing to sneeze at, but Capital High School’s senior co-captains and coach Katie Turcotte carry memories of even closer calls with them to this weekend’s state tournament at the Toyota Center in Kennewick.
In 2014, setter Tia Grow and libero Elise Meath were freshman substitutes. Meath made one trip across the back row in Capital’s first-round win over Ferndale, and Grow never got off the bench. But both remember the feeling of being so close.
“Just being on the main court at Saint Martin’s (University) was pretty crazy,” Meath remembers. “It was local so our fans could be there. Being able to say I stood on the championship court was pretty cool, even if I didn’t get in.”
“There was so much energy, my memory is a blur,” Grow added. “It was a fantastic experience.”
Auburn-Riverside swept Capital in the championship match, but Meath and Grow had positive takeaways from their senior role models.
“I looked up to Marissa Ottesen, who was our libero,” Meath said. “Seeing her cry after that match, I realized this is the passion she has for the game. It made me say, ‘I want to do this, I want to be that good.’ ”
Grow got a hug from then-senior setter Sam Yorke and a goal.
“She said I had to get one of those championship trophies before I graduated, and here we are,” Grow said.
Twenty years before Capital’s third second-place finish at state came its first.
In 1994, a Cougars team with Turcotte at setter battled through a marathon tournament complete with pool play and old-fashioned scoring rules, in which only the serving team could score a point.
In the end, Selah, which had also beaten the Cougars in pool play, ended Capital’s dream.
“It was heartbreaking to lose, but we were so proud of each other for how far we had gotten,” said Turcotte, whose predecessor as Capital’s head coach, Natalie Rhodes, was an outside hitter on that 1994 team.
“That was an awesome team. We had fantastic players and the same kind of vibe as this year — everybody got along, the team chemistry was awesome.”
The 2017 team’s chemistry hit a peak last weekend, as the Cougars breezed to a 3A West Central/Southwest bidistrict tournament championship, losing only a single set in four matches to 3A South Sound Conference foe – and fellow state qualifier – Timberline.
“We knew what was at stake,” Meath said.
After blowing out Lakes in a match during which senior Paris Crawford led the way with a .714 hitting percentage and Grow served seven aces, the Cougars faced a strong Prairie team in a pivotal second-round match. Again, Capital swept.
“We did our homework, scouted Prairie, learned what we needed to do to beat them,” Turcotte said. “The girls were all in. They really put to use the feedback we gave them.”
Timberline fell next, winning only that third set, before Capital swept Gig Harbor in the championship match. Youth played a big role in the title game as sophomore Maia Nichols led with 14 kills, and freshman Devyn Oestreich had 10.
“We really found our rhythm at districts,” Turcotte said. “We were focused on a couple of things – to be disciplined and calm. We wanted to be steady. We did that, everything was clicking, the chemistry was great.”
Capital – which lost its only match of the season to Gig Harbor back in early October, and has posted 14 shutouts this season – left the district tournament realizing a state title is within reach.
“After seeing how we played last weekend, there’s a new attitude among us all, we know we’ve got a chance to win state,” Meath said. “From what I’ve seen, there’s not one super standout team, but a lot of evenly-matched, pretty-dang-good teams.
“The team that’s the most consistent is going to be the team that wins.”
Grow knows the Cougars (17-1), who open against Snohomish (14-4) at 9:25 a.m. Friday at the Toyota Center, must keep the focus they showed last weekend.
“We need to be consistent with our attitude and energy, be in the right mindset all the time and have positive energy,” she said. “In high-intensity games, it’s been pretty good this whole season, but we’ve had some lapses.”
Ultimately, the Cougars’ seniors — Meath, Grow, Crawford, Brigitte Neuville, Devyn Collins and Grace Grimstead — hope to avoid the disappointment their counterparts felt three years ago.
“Capital needs a championship,” Meath said. “Three second-places is enough. It’s in our grasp, but only if we play the best we can play.”