Confidence riding high for Ridgefield volleyball team

Spudders on hot streak heading into state tournament

By Meg Wochnick, Columbian staff writer

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RIDGEFIELD — Over the course of the Ridgefield Spudders’ 2017 volleyball season, numerous on-the-court accomplishments have made coach Sabrina Dobbs proud.

Winning the 2A district title last weekend — the program’s first since 2000 — is the most recent.

Another is what senior libero Kenadi McCaskill said off-the-court following what Dobbs described as a rock-bottom moment for her team: losing to Woodland in four sets to give the Beavers the season sweep. For the first time in five seasons, Ridgefield wasn’t a league-champion team.

But there was McCaskill, a quiet leader who researched volleyball’s mental game and had prepared notes to share with her teammates.

“It’s all about working together and having that drive to win,” McCaskill said. “If you don’t, there’s not really any point.”

It was a proud moment for Dobbs.

“I didn’t expect that from her,” she said. And in turn, “it was a huge turning point for us.”

Since then, the Spudders haven’t dropped a match and are playing their best volleyball at the right time: the postseason, which started at district. Ridgefield swept Centralia, then topped defending state champion Tumwater, and beat host Black Hills in the title match.

Their confidence is never higher as the Spudders enter the state tournament, which begins Friday at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, as a contender for the state title. Ridgefield (14-3) opens with Washington of Parkland at 9 a.m.

Saint Martin’s is the same place the Spudders walked off disappointed this time a year ago, losing its final two matches to place sixth.

Mental breakdowns were evident, McCaskill recalled.

“Everyone was done,” McCaskill recalled. “Especially our senior core players. Once they were down, it was hard for everyone else.”

Harder especially wondering if that was the end of Ridgefield’s state-trophy runs. Strong state contenders in 2015 and ’16, the Spudders ultimately placed third and sixth, respectively, but 2017 brought in new wave of fresh faces.

And it took time for seven new players to adjust.

Shining moments included winning the Mountain View tournament, but letdowns included a season sweep at the hands of Woodland, meaning Ridgefield’s runner-up finish in league ended its four-year run as 2A Greater St. Helens League champions and a five-year run as league champions including a 2012 1A Trico League title.

Anika Nicoll, the Spudders’ only four-year varsity player, said while it took time to get acclimated, the growth is imminent now.

“Each game, we were progressing, and I think by now, we’ve reached our full potential,” she said.

That’s where the mental strength — with McCaskill’s assistance — has comes in, and flashes of it came at Saturday’s district semifinal and championship matches, which both went five sets against 2A Evergreen Conference opponents that, like Ridgefield, are frequent participants of the state tournaments.

In the district semifinal, Nicoll had 16 kills, and in the championship match, posted 16 kills and five blocks rotating between outside hitter and middle hitter.

Nicoll isn’t the only player who is in a new position. So is McCaskill as a first-year libero, and the 5-foot-6 Haley Paul at outside hitter, transitioning from a back-row-only player. She called it “one of the greatest feelings” knocking off the defending state champions in the district semifinals. A rematch could loom at state if Ridgefield and Tumwater reach the state semifinals.

A strong mental game out of the gate is key, the Spudders say, and after that, they could be hoisting another trophy Saturday.

“If we play our cards right,” Nicoll said, “it takes four (matches) to win it all.”