For Nooksack Valley seniors McKinna Larson and McKenzie Impero, this volleyball season has been something special.
Both players began their high school careers as freshman for the Pioneers and saw the team go a combined 14-35 during their first three years in the program.
But things have been different this year, as Nooksack currently stands 11-7 and has qualified for its first trip to the Class 1A State Tournament since 2007. The Pioneers will play King's Way Christian in the first round on Friday, Nov. 9, at the SunDome in Yakima.
"I think when we were freshmen, we were so new and were just thrown in there," Larson said in a phone interview. "We had no idea what we were doing. We had to learn how to be on a varsity team."
Larson had to learn particularly quick, as she started at setter as a freshman.
"That was really hard for her, setting for upperclassmen," Nooksack Valley coach Jenny Simmons said in a phone interview. "She always had a great attitude, and we knew she would be a great, natural leader. She has really improved all of her game. She now can set where she wants to from anywhere and is a real asset."
Larson also thinks she has improved other parts of her game from her freshman year, especially in the mental aspects of her game, she said. She and her teammates have now learned how to "wash things out and not get down."
Larson's growth was seen in the regular-season finale against Lynden Chrsitian, when the Pioneers found themselves in a 2-0 hole, knowing that a win would lock up the top seed to the 1A Northwest District Tournament.
The Pioneers came back to win that Oct. 25 match, sweeping the final three sets 25-22, 25-18 and 15-12.
"I think we really figured it out when we came back from being down to LC," Larson said. "Everyone thought we were going to lose. We were down 2-0 and we came back and fought. We all knew we had it in us after that."
Larson and Impero both have had to battle injuries this season - Larson with a back injury and Impero with a shoulder injury. But that hasn't kept them from playing and trying to improve their game.
"They both have a lot of pride and are great kids," Simmons said. "They are very competitive. After having a brutal freshman season, they never wanted to have that happen again and have been working hard. To see them go from losing seasons to today has been such a joy."
Impero has seen what kind of impact attitude and leadership can have while playing with Larson.
"I know if me or McKinna gets down, the whole team does," Impero said in a phone interview. "We always have to be the ones encouraging and making sure everyone is working. I know my attitude affects the team and I have had to step up and become a leader."
Part of this year's success comes from experience, as the Pioneers returned most of the team from 2011.
That's helped them build the team chemistry, Impero said.
"This year we have practically played for two years together and we have a nice flow," Impero said. "We have really bonded on and off the court and completely trust each other."
Now, Impero can't imagine playing without Larson.
"She has improved a lot and that has really helped me out," Impero said. "I am really thankful that she has been here for all four years. I couldn't have gotten my accomplishments without her. She is a huge hustler and is a really good leader."
And now that the duo gets to head to state for the first time, they have high hopes for this weekend's tournament.
"Now that we have made it, we are really focused on our first game," Larson said. "We want to go in at 8 (a.m.) and work out butts off. We need to keep out confidence up. Our goal is to get to Saturday, and then try and get something done."
TODAY'S STATE VOLLEYBALL
At Pierce College and Lakes High School
? First round: Sehome vs. Washington, 12:45 p.m.
NOTE: A consolation first round or quarterfinal match will follow against White River or Selah.
At Yakima Valley SunDome
? First round: Nooksack Valley vs. King's Way Christian, 8 a.m.
NOTE: A consolation first round or quarterfinal match will follow against Zillah or Annie Wright.
? First round: Lynden Christian vs. Leavenworth Cascade, 9:45 a.m.
NOTE: A consolation first round or quarterfinal match will follow against Woodland or Granger.
NOOKSACK VALLEY ROSTER
No. Player Yr. Pos.
1 Taryn Tenkley Jr. OH
2 Candace Rinehart Jr. MB
3 McKenzie Impero Sr. OH
4 Kylee Dekoekkoek Jr. RS
5 Avery TenKley So. MB
6 McKinna Larson Sr. S
7 Lindsay Hayes Jr. MB
8 Lindy Swanson Sr. MB
9 Bri Turner Fr. MB
11 Abbi Steele So. S
12 Hailey King-Hunt Jr. RS
13 Taylor Sletvik Jr. DS
16 Mariah Perry Fr. L
Reach Kyle Elliott at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2271.