It’s not like Cristina Hegarty hasn’t moved before. She was born in San Jose, California. She’s lived in Washington and Texas.
She’s used to it.
But this season, the Tumwater High School junior will make a different kind of move on the Thunderbirds’ volleyball team — from outside hitter to libero.
Coach Tana Otton said Hegarty’s transition will strengthen the Tumwater squad as it chases back-to-back Class 2A state championships.
The Thunderbirds went undefeated in 2A Evergreen Conference play last season and finished 18-4 overall before claiming their second title in school history. The first was in 2008.
“She’s just a great back row player; defensively she’s always dialed in,” Otton said of Hegarty. “We were starting to look at it late in the season last year, and then this summer it was just a natural fit.”
For Hegarty — an all-2A EvCo player in 2014 — so was volleyball.
When Hegarty made the varsity squad as a freshman — she was later selected as an all-league honorable mention player — her father, Brian, wrote her a note outlining her early experiences with the sport.
“He said that he came home one day when I was 6 and I had a volleyball and was like, ‘I want to play. I want to be like you,’” Hegarty said.
Brian, whose own career in volleyball inspired his daughter’s, stands at 6-foot-3 — a characteristic Cristina did not inherit at 5-6. Which was one factor that prompted her position switch.
“I’ve been shorter than what I wanted to be,” Hegarty said. “My dad’s always been realistic and said, ‘If you want to go to college, you’re going to have to go to libero or a defensive specialist.’”
That advice happened to work well with her skill set and Tumwater’s needs.
“I think we have a lot of flexible players,” senior outside hitter Jaeya Reed said. “Cristina most definitely can play anywhere. She’s very versatile.”
Reed has slipped into Hegarty’s previous role to complete the puzzle. Sophomore outside hitter Kennedy Croft — a first-team all-2A EvCo player in 2014 and Otton’s daughter — balances out the other side.
Which, of course, slots Hegarty in the center.
“In my mind right now, with her in the middle of the court, we’re going to be a better team,” Otton said.
But even with the pieces all in place, Otton insists not one of her players thinks the team is championship ready yet.
“We need to work for this,” Hegarty said.
Lauren Smith: 360-754-5473
Three teams to watch
Coach: Tana Otten, 13th year (205-31)
2014 record: 18-4 (6-0 2A EvCo), first in league, defending 2A state champions
Outlook: During the past 10 seasons, the only year the Thunderbirds missed the state tournament was 2009 — directly following a state title year in 2008. Otten insists history won’t repeat itself this season as Tumwater chases its second consecutive state championship. With four returning starters — including all-league players sophomore Kennedy Croft and junior Cristina Hegarty — and plenty of supporting players, the Thunderbirds are reloaded with a chance to repeat.
Coach: Laurie Creighton, 37th year
2014 record: 12-9 (7-5 4A Narrows), fourth in league, lost in second round of state tournament
Outlook: The Bears are establishing new roles after getting knocked out of the 4A state tournament last season by none other than league rival and eventual state champ Bellarmine Prep. Olympia returns four of its starters, led by senior Julia Fleener — all-league honorable mention in 2014 — who racked up 913 assists last season at setter. Junior Lauren Wilson, who had 280 kills last season, also returns.
Coach: Natalie Rhodes, 12th year (127-27)
2014 record: 20-2 (14-0 3A Narrows), first in league, lost in 3A state championship
Outlook: Only three starters are coming back for the Cougars this season — Capital graduated seven seniors in 2014 — but all three played in the state championship game last year. Junior Hali Ehresmann — second-team all-league last season — and seniors Steffany Sweet and Amanda Christopher will lead the young squad. Capital has reached the state championship game the past two years — it lost to Auburn Riverside in the 3A final last season, and Burlington-Edison in the 2A final in 2013. The program has never won a state title.
Three players to watch
▪ Kennedy Croft, Tumwater, outside hitter, so.
Arguably one of the best rotation players in the state, Croft was a first-team all-2A EvCo pick in 2014 as a freshman. At 5-foot-10, she will be a pillar for the Thunderbirds as they start their campaign for a second consecutive state title. She led Tumwater last season with 261 kills, and is named on PrepVolleyball.com’s 2015 preseason high school All-American watch list.
▪ Julianna Salanoa, Timberline, middle hitter, jr.
Salanoa — and Timberline, which finished a third-place 8-4 in 4A Narrows play last season — are in position to surprise this year. Blazers coach Krista Manke said Salanoa is as dynamic as they come, and can attack from anywhere. Salanoa is 5-11 with speed and an impressive vertical, and will play all the way around the rotation this season. She has attended volleyball camps at Stanford and the University of Washington, and has visited with BYU.
▪ Alex Porter, North Thurston, outside hitter, sr.
Porter smashed into the 3A Narrows league last season after moving to the South Sound from Las Vegas. She was a second-team all-league selection in 2014, picking up 300 kills, 50 blocks and 47 digs for the Rams. Her strength in the front row and on defense will be key this season as North Thurston — which finished a second-place 12-2 in 3A Narrows play last season before placing seventh at the state tournament — competes for the league throne.