Karlee Lubenow acknowledged that she was a little concerned this past summer, sizing up the Prairie volleyball team.
The Falcons lost a lot of talent from the previous season and had a lot of newcomers joining them.
Lubenow, going into her fourth season of varsity ball, said the team had a lot of question marks.
She and her teammates have answered those questions, all with positive answers.
“Even if we’re not always the best team on the floor physically, we are always passionate,” Lubenow said. “We’re super good at coming back and never giving up in a game.”
Perhaps that is why the Falcons are undefeated and easily won the Class 3A Greater St. Helens League.
In Camas, senior Brindl Langley noticed something special with the Papermakers in summer league.
“It was the way we connected as a team. We loved each other. There were no cliques. No mean commentary to each other. We love being around each other,” said Langley, who was the 3A GSHL player of the year last year before she and her teammates moved to the 4A GSHL this season.
“Last week, we had Friday off, so it was a three-day weekend from volleyball. We hated being away from each other,” Langley said. “It was weird. I don’t know what to do with myself unless I have a volleyball in my hand.”
That feeling of always wanting to be together has led the Papermakers to the top seed in the 4A GSHL. Camas is 12-1 overall — its only loss coming in a five-set, non-league thriller against, yep, Prairie.
The former league rivals now hope to shine in different classifications, both with high expectations for the postseason.
Lubenow said the early tests against 4A programs Camas, Union, and Skyview showed Prairie was for real. Especially that match against Camas.
“It was a great wake-up call for us,” Lubenow said. “That was a real blood, sweat, and tears match for us. We were exhausted. We scrapped for every point, all the way.”
That goes along with the team’s philosophy. To keep working. No matter how good they think they are, or others think they are.
Prairie was ranked No. 1 by the Seattle Times early in the season. The state’s coaches also love the Falcons, ranking them No. 2 in their most recent poll. Lubenow said some teams could use that as an excuse to take it easy, especially playing in a league that is not as competitive as it has been in recent years.
“That’s what I love about our team,” Lubenow said. “We work extra hard in practice. We’ve been preparing, ever since the first game for now, for the postseason. We don’t feel entitled to anything. We’re going to see tougher teams. We’re going to have to really want it. Everyone on the team is going to have to play at 100 percent for it to happen.”It would be a state championship.
Prairie coach Andrea Doerfler is not guaranteeing a state title, but she is guaranteeing her team will prepare itself to the best of its ability.
“That’s one of the core values of our program,” Doefler said. “Be better every time you leave the gym. The team takes it very seriously.”
Camas has made a smooth transition to the 4A GSHL, ending Skyview’s run of four consecutive league titles.
“I made this comment before we played anyone, and I never do this. But I said this might be the best team I’ve ever coached,” Camas coach Julie Nidick said. “We don’t have a lot of weaknesses.”
The Papermakers have dropped one set in league play this year, against Union.
“I am happy in the way we are playing and the way we took control of 4A,” Langley said. “Hopefully it will lead into how we are going to play into bi-district and state.”
The Papermakers, ranked fifth in Class 4A by the coaches, also are aware that the bi-district tournament in Class 4A is much stronger. Camas won the bi-district as a 3A program the past three years. Last year, the 4A GSHL champion failed to advance to state, stumbling in the bi-district tournament.
“They know this is a whole new ball game,” Nidick said.
And that means a whole new challenge for Langley and her teammates.
“The teams up there are way better. They’re taller, stronger, faster. I want to show them what’s up,” Langley said. “I want to go to state this year, first year in 4A, and make a statement for years to come.”
In Southwest Washington, Prairie and Camas have been leading the way since Day 1.
They hope, by the second weekend in November, they are still playing well, all the way to the final day of their state tournaments in Lacey.