Ferndale may have become younger as a team, but that didn’t stop them from making the state tournament for a second-straight year.
With only senior Abby Reid for the Golden Eagles this year. The team has been looking toward its younger players to fill the voids last season’s seniors left.
Sophomore outside hitter Whitney Walker has been just that for Ferndale this season.
“Whitney is our most consistent, all-around player,” Ferndale coach Patti Hoelzle said in a phone interview. “She’s just as strong in the front as she is serving and passing.”
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Hoelzle first got a look at Walker while she was playing club volleyball when Walker was 12 years old and Hoelzle was the coach.
“She is so committed to volleyball and plays year-round,” Hoelzle said. “I’ve never experienced passion like Whitney’s in the 10 years I’ve coached.”
“I’ve been practicing really hard and putting my mind into it,” Walker said in a phone interview.
As a 12-year-old until now, her development as a volleyball player is evident. Walker said she has been hitting harder and her passing game has got a lot better.
Coming in last season as a freshman for the Golden Eagles, Walker was able to soak in the leadership from seniors on the team and experience playing in the state tournament, helping her develop into an important player for Ferndale this season as a sophomore.
“It was exciting to see her coming up, she was an impact player as a freshman,” Hoelzle said. “I knew she was going to be one of our main players.”
The passion Walker shows for the game doesn’t hurt, either.
“I have always loved the sport and can’t stop playing it,” Walker said.
Sometimes Hoelzle has to tell Walker to not go home and pick up a volleyball but to rest her body instead, Hoelzle said.
Being able to count on a young player such as Walker has been comforting and encouraging for the young Golden Eagles’ team, Hoelzle said.
Heading into the district tournament, junior middle back and outside hitter Taryn Potter got injured and has been unable to play, allowing for Walker to prove to be more impactful for Ferndale during districts.
“We have been lucky to have three good outside hitters,” Hoelzle said. “(Walker) has stepped up her intensity and leadership, along with Reid.”
In Potter’s absence, Hoelzle mentioned that nothing has changed from Walker’s play, just that she has got more swings during games.
Walker got the chance to show her leadership and intensity during the third-place game of the district tournament against Oak Harbor. At the end of the game, Ferndale was on its game-point, when Oak Harbor won the next two games to extend the set.
After a serve from the Wildcats, Reid was able to set a ball for Walker, who hammered it into the ground to win the match, Hoelzle said.
“When (Walker) makes a mistake, (Walker) gets hungry for the next ball,” Hoelzle said. “There’s this fire in her eyes.”
After its district tournament performance, Ferndale feels it is ready for the state tournament.
“The adversity we faced with Potter going down has been helpful, girls stepped up but we still won games through key players,” Hoelzle said. “We’re confident in ourselves and have the hunger to prove it in the state tournament.”
Heading into the state tournament, the Golden Eagles are making their final preparations for their first game against Capital High School at 8 a.m. Friday, Nov. 14.
“We have had practices at 6 a.m. during the season and an 8 a.m. practice this week,” Hoelzle said. “We’re hoping that we’re more prepared and experienced playing early than the other team.”
This weekend Ferndale has another shot at winning its first game in the state tournament since 1992.
“I’m hoping that we win our first game against Capital and that we move forward to play in the championship game Saturday,” Walker said. “I need to stay consistent and stay a leader on the court.”