There comes a moment where a team suddenly realizes that it just might be better than they originally thought.
An “Aha!” moment.
Tony Collins knows exactly where that moment came for his University High School volleyball team.
“Our turning point came at the Linda Sheridan Tournament,” he explained. “We started the season with the concept that we needed to take things one step at a time. One match at a time and get ourselves into a playoff spot. Our main thing was developing consistency and getting kids to believe in themselves.
“When we got to the Linda Sheridan tournament, we competed really well and we made it into the Platinum Bracket. On the ride home I heard some of the kids saying ‘Wow, we did some things we didn’t even know we could do.’ ”
Collins has proof to back up his opinion.
“We were 11-7 going into the tournament,” he said. “We finished 8-2 after it.”
Hard to argue with the roll U-Hi has been on heading into this weekend’s state Class 4A tournament.
After a loss to North Idaho powerhouse Lake City, University won four straight against GSL opponents, knocking off Gonzaga Prep in five games, Lewis and Clark in four, swept past Ferris and knocked off rival Central Valley in four.
After falling to Richland in the playoffs in three games, the Titans bounced back to beat Hanford before reaching state by beating Prep and Walla Walla both in one day.
Junior setter Joli Poplawski collected more than 50 assists in those last two games while junior hitter Lauren Fleury had 32 kills.
Collins points to two qualities that have keyed the Titans success. For one, they’ve been consistent. For another, they’ve avoided being predictable.
“That’s important,” he said. “You need to be consistent, but at the same time you don’t want an opponent to be sure just where you’re going to go on any given play.”
Poplawski has been effective in the team’s two-setter offense along with Rochelle Koepke. Kaitlin Collins has been effective digging the ball while Kristah Tiffany has piled up an impressive list of aces from the service line and is equally adept on the dig. Shayla Minier and Kylie Turner both have been effective on the block.
The Titans have learned how to embrace the fact that, from time, they will make a mistake – although they have minimized them as the season progressed.
The trick, the coach said, is to quickly put those mistakes behind them and move forward.
“I call it the roller coaster,” Collins said. “There are always going to be highs and lows and you try to work through them. You are going to make mistakes. But if you dwell on one mistake, you’re going to make two or three more.”
The real strength, the coach said. Is in the team’s depth.
“We run a six-two, meaning we use two setters and we can use two or three players at any one position at any given time,” Collins said. “Since the first day of practice, they’ve all pushed each other very hard in practice and they know that they are fighting for their job every day.
“When you work a little harder in practice you have a great chance to get to that next level as a player.”
And as a team.
U-Hi snapped a three-year drought and earned a spot in the state tournament that begins Friday in Yakima at the SunDome, where the Titans open against Olympia.
“We’re excited to play there,” the coach said. “We played in a tournament there earlier in the season so we’re familiar with the surroundings. And we’ll get there on Thursday so we can have some practice time on the court there.”
The tournament schedule the team has played coupled with a tough league schedule has the Titans prepared for what they will have to face at state.
The Bears are coached by Washington State Volleyball Coaches Hall of Fame member Laurie Creighton, who is in her 40th season leading the program.
The winner of that first-round game faces the winner of the Kamiak-West Valley-Yakima contest and the losers face-off in an elimination game.
“Our goal is to go there and take things one match at a time,” the coach explained. “If we can do that, we can bring home some hardware.”