When a Lynden volleyball player makes the varsity squad, historically, it's a near certainty they'll be heading to the state tournament.
For years the Lions volleyball program has been revered as a perennial powerhouse. The club placed sixth in state in 2007, third in '08 and fifth in 2010. Lynden went to state in '09 but didn't place.
But for Lynden, a club used to playing into the second week of November, state tournaments have proved elusive each of the past two seasons.
In fact, senior Stephanie Somers is the only player on Lynden's 2013 roster who has been to a volleyball state tournament.
"I definitely feel like it was disappointing getting to the postseason and missing state the last two years," Lynden junior outside hitter Kat Webb said in a phone interview.
The Lions still had success in 2011 and '12. The teams compiled a 23-12 record, but limited state berths and the emergence of Skagit County schools and Sehome's program made Lynden the odd team out both years.
Talent wasn't necessarily lacking. Webb and new coach Julie Clift suggested distraction limited Lynden from fulfilling its potential.
"I think it was inconsistency in the program and inconsistency with (the players) and focusing on what they want to accomplish," Clift said of what she thought could have hindered Lynden. "There are also a lot of competitive teams in the league. The Lynden volleyball program has gone to state almost every year. (The players) are definitely working really hard, and now they are hungry to get back."
Clift may be the right person to help return the Lions to state. She has a vast volleyball background and was a major factor in helping Squalicum change from a three-win team in 2011 to a 10-win team in 2012.
The new Lynden coach has breathed fresh energy into the program by implementing an entirely new system none of the girls has run before. Clift admitted it will be a growing process, but once the club gets comfortable, she believes the 2013 Lions will be as competitive as the rest of the teams in the Northwest Conference.
"I think just being so educated about the game of volleyball," said Webb of Clift's strongest qualities as a coach. "She's always telling us what to do at the right time. We have the same kind of drills every day, and she knows what we need to work on. She is really smart about the game."
Although the Lions graduated a number of talented players, Lynden still has a strong core to build around. Somers, Webb and senior outside hitter Kelsey Bouwman are outstanding players to build a new foundation with. Junior middle blocker Hannah Rothwell is another player with experience.
"Athletically, they are good volleyball players," Clift said of her group. "They are hard hitters, and that is great, but they also have experience at the state tournament playing basketball and playing other sports, so they know what it is like, and they want to get back."
Even though a few years have passed since Lynden was at state, that big-tournament experience remains all around. Both Lynden's assistant coaches, Averyl Shindruk and Jessie Biesheuvel, were Lion state-volleyball players, Clift said.
Lynden knows returning to the top of the NWC standings will be a process, but that doesn't mean getting to state this year isn't on the team's agenda.
"I think definitely our goal is to make it to state, and I've never been to state before, so that is one of the biggest goals," Webb said. "We want to come together and get better each season, have that confidence level going into big games and not be scared for big teams."
Webb said in playing teams such as Burlington-Edison, which finished 11-1 in league last year, Lynden would feel intimidated. She said the Lions feel that way no more.
"This year we are working a lot harder and busting our butts everyday," Webb said. "Practices are longer, and we did conditioning the entire summer. That definitely helps a lot more. I think we are a lot closer than last year, and we're really coming together on the court."
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862.
Reach ANDREW LANG at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.