So much has changed with the Prairie volleyball program.
Half the players are new to varsity this season, and there is a new coach.
The philosophy remains the same, though.
At this point in the 2012 season, nobody was thinking about November and a run to the state championship at Prairie. All of that ended up happening, but not because of any words or thoughts in September. It was all because of the process, according to team captains Kaylee Warren and Malea Doerfler.
Team-by-team capsules, click here.
"We're starting the process all over again," Warren said. "We're taking the steps toward greatness. It all starts here. Last year, we were more focused on just being the best in our league."
Said Doerfler: "Everybody just did their best."
And that best, all of them together, turned into a memorable run to the Class 3A state title.
The final match of the tournament, a three-set sweep over North Thurston of Lacey, also happened to be the final contest for coach Andrea Doerfler, Malea's mom. The coach resigned after the season so she could spend more time watching her three daughters play.
Paige Person, who has been with the program for three years as an assistant, is the new head coach.
"I couldn't ask for anything better," Person said. "I love these girls, and really, the program is in incredible position. Not just coming off of a state championship. The expectations are already known. They must work hard, they must be respectful in the gym and outside the gym, and they always put the team ahead of themselves.
"Bottom line, that's what creates a family."
Like any quality program, the athletes have been playing or training for volleyball every month of the offseason. Now, it is a bit more special as August brought the first official practice for the high school season and teams are starting to play matches this week. Prairie opens Thursday against rival Battle Ground.
"It's a great feeling to be in the same gym with some of the same girls," Malea Doerfler said. "Just a great feeling all the way around."
Notice, she said some of the same girls. There were six seniors on the team last year and all played key roles. This year's Falcons know they will have targets on their backs as the reigning champs. They also know they will have to keep true to the team's philosophy. Don't worry about the postseason. Not yet, anyway.
"For a lot of girls, if you think that far ahead, you get really intimidated, and it makes you nervous," Warren said.
The captains are preaching patience and fun.
"Develop our skills and techniques as a team," Doerfler said, sounding exactly like the daughter of a coach. "If you work hard and do that, it will pay off in the end. That's what happened last year."
While thinking ahead is frowned upon at Prairie, there is no rule against remembering what it was like to win that state title.
"I was jumping up and down, waving my hands in the air," Doerfler said. "I didn't think I was going to cry. It was tears of joy."
"It was every emotion at one time," Warren said. "It hit you so hard on that last point. We just beat all these other great teams."
The Falcons showed more emotion when Andrea Doerfler resigned.
"You created a bond," Warren said. "It was a little hard."
Maybe more difficult for Malea. She knew of her mother's decision before her teammates.
"It was a special time my mom and I shared together," Malea said. "We have a volleyball family here. She created that."
Fortunately for the Falcons, Person has been part of that family, too.
"Paige is bringing the same volleyball family (feel)," Malea said.
Warren said the Falcons have welcomed the change with "open arms." The players are enthusiastic about practice, optimistic for the future.
"I come to the gym every day because I love this sport, but also because I love this program," Warren said.
That has not changed at Prairie volleyball.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Nicole Barth, sr., Skyview; Shannon Boyle, sr., Ridgefield; Alyssa Carnes, sr., La Center; Lauren Harris, jr., Camas; Megan LaFond, sr., Union; Nicolette Nesbitt, sr., Woodland; Dalaney Tuholski, jr., Heritage; Brooke Van Sickle, so., Battle Ground; Evi Wilson, so., Columbia River.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
• No. 1: State champs live here again: Sure, it is a new team, but all season long the Prairie Falcons will be the defending state champions. That’s a cool thing for Clark County volleyball fans, who have been waiting a long time. It is the first 3A or 4A state title for the region since Columbia River won in 2000.
• No. 2: Youth movement: Brooke Van Sickle of Battle Ground and Evi Wilson of Columbia River made The Columbian’s All-Region team last year as freshmen. They’re back, ready to dominate some more. Van Sickle, in fact, was named one of the top 55 freshmen in the country by the USA Volleyball Association.
• No. 3: Very interesting: The Seattle Times came out with its first volleyball rankings of the season and a young team with no seniors opened at No. 10 in Class 4A. The Times predicts a change coming to Southwest Washington volleyball, and it begins with Battle Ground. Prairie, as the defending champion, is No. 9 in Class 3A.
• No. 4: State teams: Besides Prairie as the 3A champion, Camas took fifth at the Class 4A state tournament. Columbia River (3A), Woodland (1A), and King’s Way (1A) also made it to the final tournament of the season last season.
• No. 5: The destinations: Teams are hoping to get here: 4A and 3A state are in Lacey; 2A is in Steilacoom; 1A, 2B, 1B are in Yakima.
For team-by-team preseason coaches reports, see our high school sports blog at: blogs.columbian.com/high-school-sports