The Ridgefield volleyball team returned to competition Tuesday for the first time since hoisting the state trophy 15 months ago, and coach Sabrina Dobbs had one word to describe it.
“It’s weird; it’s just very weird,” Dobbs said. “It’s weird emotions, weird to wear masks to play, a weird setting, weird that it’s so quiet with so few fans. … Coming from 2019 to playing now in 2021, it seems like it was so long ago.”
It was definitely peculiar, with chairs on the bench spread out six feet apart, players giving each other “air” high-fives and teams not switching sides of the court during the match.
And it had an effect on even the most experienced players for the two-time defending state champions.
“Allie Andrew was showing me that her leg was shaking because she was nervous to be out there again,” Dobbs said of her 6-foot-4 Baylor signee. “And that’s crazy because she’s a senior and she has so much experience, been playing for years.”
But it didn’t’ take long for the nerves to go away and for the players to remember the most important thing – they were playing volleyball again.
“I think halfway through the match, I was looking at my teammates, celebrating and cheering, and I was like ‘You know what? This is awesome.’ ” Andrew said. “We might have masks on, but we still get to play the game we love. So it was a lot of fun.”
It was a night that many players feared might not happen.
“I tried at the beginning of the virus to be super positive,” senior Kohana Fukuchi said. “But when they told us that school wasn’t going to happen (as normal), I definitely thought this wasn’t going to happen. And then (the fall season) got canceled, I really thought it wasn’t going to happen. So I’m very thankful they figured out a way to have fall sports right now.”
Like other volleyball teams, the Spudders spent the past couple of weeks practicing in pods of six. And when restrictions got lifted last weekend that would allow them to practice as a complete team, the snow hit.
So Tuesday night was the first time the Spudders — as well as their opponents, the Mark Morris Monarchs — were together on the court as a team. And at times, it showed.
“We all were working through some kinks,” Andrew said. “But it was so fun to be out there with my team cheering. It felt normal. It was a fun game. It was fun to be with my teammates. It was fun just to be on the court and play the game we love.”
The Spudders, who scored a 25-20, 25-9, 25-12 victory over the Monarchs, return several key performers from the 2019 squad including Andrew, Fukuchi, senior Emilea Stepaniuk and junior Morgan Harter. They also added a freshman, Andrew’s younger sister, Elizabeth, who is also 6-4.
“I’ve got such a talented team again this year,” Dobbs said. “It’s hard to think that we won’t get to play that 2020 season, to go to playoffs, to go to districts, to go to state. But we’ll take what we can and ride it out as best we can.”
Fukuchi said the Spudders are not focusing on what might have been, or even on the future.
“We’re just playing for each other, trying to go out with a bang,” Fukuchi said. “For a lot of us, this will be the last time playing together, so we’re just going on the court to be together and play volleyball.
And enjoy the experience, weird as it may be.
“The goal — it’s one last ride for our seniors here – is to have a good season, just to keep cherishing the moments we have,” Andrew said. “Because we didn’t think this would come, so we’re just appreciating the time we have on the court, appreciating the games we get to have, and just playing and having fun, taking each game by game. Because you know again we don’t have that end goal, so I think it’s the journey that were excited for — to be back on the court and playing.”
Players to watch
Emma Adams, sr., Columbia River: The libero surpassed 1,000 career digs in helping River place seventh in state.
Alicia Andrew, sr., Ridgefield: The 6-foot-4 senior was a powerhouse as a blocker and hitter, signed with Baylor.
Abby Cummins, sr., King’s Way Christian: She was the Trico League co-offensive player of the year.
Tiffany Chandler, sr., La Center: She was the Trico League co-offensive player of the year.
Bella Hadaller, jr., Kelso: Outside hitter was among the 3A GSHL leaders in kills.
Lia Hawken sr., Skyview: The first-team all-4A GSHL pick last season signed with University of Dayton.
Jaydia Martin, sr., Hudson’s Bay: Both a setter and outside hitter, the multi-sport athletes earned 3A GSHL co-MVP honors.
Katie Peneueta, sr., Heritage: Multi-sport standout was a first-team all-4A Greater St. Helens League pick.
Emilea Stepaniuk, sr., Ridgefield: Libero was key to Spudders run at state. She had 64 digs over four state matches, including 27 in the championship.
Tyra Schaub, jr., Skyview: The outside hitter was 4A GSHL co-MVP. Led Skyview to share of league title and state berth.
Emma Swett, sr., Woodland: Junior led her team in kills, aces and blocks while able to handle setting duties on occasion.
Grace Varsek, sr., Camas: Defensive specialist was a first-team 4A GSHL pick last season.