Saturday, July 22, 2017 This Week's Paper

Annie Wright cruising toward postseason again

// Gators currently ranked No. 1 in 1A by coaches

The Annie Wright volleyball team has been in this situation before, but is motivated to make this season different. The Gators’ early-season dominance is gaining attention, evidenced by their No. 1 ranking in the state in 1A by the coaches association. Steamrolling through the Emerald City League once again – the latest episode being a 25-8, 25-10, 25-8 dispatching of The Northwest School on Oct. 9 – the Gators are ignoring the rankings and remain focused on postseason success.

“Coach always says ‘Don’t let (the attention) get to your head,’” said senior outside hitter Margaux Arntson. “Last year we came out and had a perfect season and then lost our first game at state. I think a lot of that was all the expectations crashing on us. We thought we had it made. This year we’re really trying to stay humble and focus on what we need to do every game.”

Arntson helped the Gators take control early against Northwest, collecting three of her five aces in the span of five points to help gain a 15-4 lead in the first game. Fellow senior lefty Tori Smith helped Annie Wright maintain a comfortable lead with three kills in the first game, ending it with a tip over the net. Arntson had 11 kills and four blocks in the match, while Smith added five kills.

“They are our key,” said Annie Wright head coach Rodney Kalalau of Arntson and Smith. “How many teams do you see have big lefties that can play defense, that can play offense? Not often. I’m fortunate and lucky to have them.”

Smith smashed three of her four aces early in the second game to help give the Gators a 7-0 lead, and they later went on a 9-0 run for a commanding 17-2 lead. Lexi LeClech, who finished with three kills, four aces and five digs, finished the game with an emphatic slam. Libero Maria Vipond added four aces in the span of six points to essentially close out the match, helping give the Gators a 19-6 lead in the third game.

Arnston, Smith, LeClech and Vipond have teamed with setter Kaley Turner – who had 10 assists against Northwest – to give the Gators a solid core of returners, but a promising group of five freshmen has added energy to the squad as well.

“It does help having a lot of girls knowing what they’re doing, but it’s nice to have all the freshmen,” said Smith, noting the valuable playing time the younger players are getting. “They get really excited. It’s nice to have a few more opportunities for the girls that don’t get to play as much.”

Annie Wright moved to 7-0 in league play with the win, and will travel to take on Forest Ridge – who the Gators held off in five sets earlier this year – on Oct. 23 at 7 p.m.

With postseason play fast approaching, and memories of last year’s disappointing first-round loss at state, the Gators certainly aren’t paying attention to their state ranking.

“I don’t like the rankings,” Kalalau said. “I don’t think these girls are even thinking about the rankings. We’re just taking one game at a time, one point at a time and taking it from there.”

And, should the opportunity to advance to the state meet arise again, what will be the key to going farther?

“Just rising to the occasion,” Smith said. “Just being able to push through.”