Ferndale volleyball will return to the Class 3A state tournament this season after a two-year absence, and one of the big reasons for the Golden Eagles' success is senior middle blocker Hannah Pitsch.
Last year, Pitsch was a big part of the offense. This year, she's earned the phrase "momentum-getter."
When the Golden Eagles are in a pinch, Hannah Pitsch is who the gold and blue turn to.
"The setter always feels comfortable getting her the ball in key moments," coach Patti Hoelzle said in a phone interview.
Pitsch has developed into more than just a great athlete; she has been consistently accurate this season. Some games Pitsch will get a kill on 40 percent of her touches.
"It's made a huge difference," Hoelzle said. "Last year, we had to ride a little bit of a roller-coaster."
Throughout the success, Pitsch has developed a confidence she didn't always have. She started playing volleyball her freshman year, and says she wasn't confident as the newcomer. But after developing into a starter and leader for the Golden Eagles, she has started to believe in herself.
"I was natural at it, but I didn't believe," Pitsch said in a phone interview.
Pitsch is the one that sets the standard for the other players, and that stems from her competitive side.
"How she acts every day at practice is something younger players look at," Hoelzle said. "Some girls take the opportunity to slack. She doesn't. She always wants to improve."
Pitsch isn't alone though. Her teammates have pushed her to be the best she can be. Fellow middle blocker Brooke Benson competes with her at practice and at games to outhit and outblock each other. Hoelzle believes the friendly competition is a reason the Golden Eagles have had success this season.
"We're always pushing to be better than each other," Pitsch said, "pushing to be better than the last play."
Another relationship Pitsch has benefitted from is the one between her best friend on and off the court, setter Abby Reid. The middle blocker's and setter's connection is the most important on the team and it can't get better than Ferndale's pair.
"Nine out of 10 times, we know what each other is thinking," Pitsch said.
Sometimes the mental connection can be a problem.
"I have to tell them to talk sometimes," Hoelzle said. "They know what they're thinking but the other players don't."
Ferndale faces Columbia River on Friday, Nov. 15, and Pitsch knows she has to be on her game.
"I just want to be a constant force," she said. "I don't need to have the game of my life, but I just need to be consistent."
Her coach thinks she will be a major factor just by being there and being mentally prepared.
"She keeps standards high," Hoezle said, "And exudes confidence to younger players."
Three years ago when Ferndale was in the state tournament, Pitsch, who was a freshman at the time, was on the junior varsity team and had to cheer from home. But her friend Hannah Carlson, who was also a freshman at the time, was on varsity and competing in the tournament.
"It just showed me no matter how young you are, you can have talent," Pitsch said. "I saw the level of play was so much more fun, I wanted to be there."
Ferndale lost both games at state last time. Now that the Golden Eagles are back, they want more.
"We've been talking about this all season," Hoelzle said. "The girls have kept their eye on the prize and now are ready to go do something about it."
This year, with an inspired cast and a competitive, fierce Pitsch, it just might be possible to surprise at state.
"We're a team nobody knows about," Pitsch said. "Ferndale has never been known for volleyball. We're looking to surprise."
CLASS 3A STATE TOURNAMENT
Friday's first round
At Saint Martin's University, Lacey
? Columbia River vs. Ferndale, 3:15 p.m.
CLASS 2A STATE TOURNAMENT
Friday's first round
At Pierce College, Steilacoom
? Yakima East Valley vs. Sehome, 8 a.m.
? Squalicum vs. Spokane East Valley, 9:45 a.m.
? Lynden vs. Yakima West Valley, 1:30 p.m.
CLASS 1A STATE TOURNAMENT
At Yakima Valley SunDome
? Lynden Christian vs. Connell, 11:30 a.m.