Nooksack Valley setter McKinna Larson has been around the Pioneers volleyball program long enough to learn a thing or two about her teammates.
She knows Lindsay Hayes likes her volleyball to be set high and tight on the net. She knows right side Hailey King-Hunt, a lefty, likes her ball right off the antenna, and she knows long-time friend and varsity teammate of three years, McKenzie Impero, can put away just about anything she puts in the air.
Such knowledge comes with the territory of being a four-year varsity starter.
"She has great court awareness, she always knows where her consistent hitters are, and I say one of her best qualities is that she is quick." Nooksack Valley coach Jenny Simmons said in a phone interview.
Larson was an All-Whatcom County selection a year ago, combining with Impero to become one of the top setter-outside hitter, 1-2 punches in the Northwest Conference.
Even with Larson's success, it's hard for her to stand out. Welcome to the life of a setter - a quarterback-like position that receives offensive lineman-like glory.
A powerful kill draws attention, but a setter engineers the play.
"She is very important as a leader, first of all," Simmons said of Larson. "When the team is struggling, she is the one who has to figure it out and know where to set. She has been very consistent. ... I feel like the setter position gets underestimated. The hitters get a lot of the glory. "
Praise or no praise, Larson embraces her often creditless position.
"Being a setter is a lot harder than people think," Larson said in a phone interview. "There's a lot to it, and you're in every play. It takes a lot of strength and mental strength. I know when I messed up my freshman year, I would think, 'oh gosh, setting is a lot harder than I expect,' but it's my favorite position."
It's her favorite, and she's darn good at it.
Larson has been so strong and steady in her spot, Simmons has continuously put off, time and time again, her search for Larson's replacement.
"We've been spoiled with her, you know," Simmons said. "I've kind of had to start looking at developing a new setter, and I'd think about it and say, 'okay, only two more years left for her, now one year left.' With McKinna, I haven't had to worry about (developing a new setter) for a while."
While this year will be Larson's fourth season suiting up in Valley purple and white, she has only recently begun to enjoy the team success she's been striving for her whole career.
The Pioneers failed to advance past districts Larson's freshman and sophomore, as Nooksack Valley posted 2-13 and 6-10 records, respectively. Last season, though, Simmons' bunch had a breakthrough, beating Coupeville 3-2 during districts to earn a spot in the Class 1A Tri-District Tournament.
Larson now has thoughts of state on her mind.
"My goal this year is to definitely push my team and see if we can make it to state," Larson said. "We have made it to the postseason, but we've petered out. If anything, I just want to make it to state and hopefully do good. I have friends who play volleyball at other schools, and they tell me how cool volleyball state is. I just want to get there so bad."
Nooksack seems to have the right pieces in place to contend for a state spot.
Outside of Larson and Impero, Nooksack Valley's third senior, Lindy Swanson, gives the Pioneers a strong middle presence along side fellow middle Hayes.
Junior Taryn Tenkly is a nice complement to Impero on the outside, and Simmons is hoping freshman libero Mariah Perry can step right in and be Nooksack Valley's scrappy defender in the back row.
"I think we have a lot more confidence this year than last year," Larson said. "Our middles are stepping up a lot, and our girls on the team have grown a lot together as a team."
Nooksack Valley's road to earning a 2012 state berth took an interesting turn when Blaine and Mount Baker dropped down in classification. The Pioneers will have to contend with LC, Blaine, Meridian and Mount Baker, which has produced strong teams as of late.
Larson gives credit for much of her success to assistant coach Katie Robinson, who was a standout setter at Nooksack Valley and later at Western Washington University.
"I'm a lot smarter than I was my freshmen year," Larson said. "Katie Robinson has helped me a lot. Having her there shaped me a ton my freshmen year. I was lost and terrified, but she made me a smarter player. She has taught me all sorts of stuff."
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.