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Tim Martinez: Ella Schoene stands tall in the middle of La Center volleyball

Tim Martinez: High School Sports

By Tim Martinez, Columbian Assistant Sports Editor
Published: November 10, 2022, 5:55am

Ella Schoene isn’t afraid to work hard to help out her family.

She often helps at events hosted by Why Racing, a local company that hosts about 20 running or multi-event races in the area. Why Racing is owned and operated by Schoene’s parents, Karissa and Rod.

And that often involves getting up early.

“Yeah, like 4 a.m. early,” Ella Schoene said. “I help to set up and take down for the whole event, like the start line, the finish line and the course. I’ll help with registration. And then on the water course, I’ll help cheer people on.

“I like it. I get to hang out with my friends and family, so it’s nice.”

Two years ago, Schoene got to be part of a new family on the volleyball court.

After playing two seasons at Mountain View High School, Schoene moved with her family to La Center. Joining the La Center volleyball team was different for Schoene, but a nice change.

“It’s a smaller environment, for sure, but it is very community-based, which I really like,” the senior said. “You know everyone, which I also like. It’s just a little family.”

Schoene is the big hitter in the middle of the Wildcats’ attack, leading La Center to the Trico League title and the Wildcats’ first district title since 2016.

La Center coach Cymany O’Brien said adding a player like Schoene can sometimes lead to conflict. But that didn’t happen with Schoene’s arrival last season.

“I’ve had teams where you have a standout like Ella, and girls get jealous of the attention,” O’Brien said. “But Ella is so humble and kind, and she treats everybody that way. So all the girls are supportive of her. She works hard, and they work hard right alongside of her.”

In Schoene’s first season with the team, La Center advanced to the state tournament. But the Wildcats lost two matches and went home.

“Last year, we didn’t do so well, so that was just a learning experience altogether,” Schoene said. “And we kind of like crumbled. So I think that’s the main goal this year is to stay positive and lift each other up when things get tough.”

The drive to do better this season started during practices last summer.

“I said if you want to go deep at state, you have to work really hard,” O’Brien said. “You have to be willing to practice on Saturdays and have later practices. You have to be willing to condition, and you can’t complain about it.”

The result?

“Not once,” O’Brien said. “Not one complaint.”

The Wildcats got a little taste of what they might experience at state this weekend during last Saturday’s district title match, a gritty five-set battle against Castle Rock.

All early matches on Saturday went long, pushing the scheduled 3 p.m. at match at King’s Way Christian back nearly two hours.

“The anxiety started to build up,” O’Brien said. “One of our setters wasn’t feeling well that day. Some players starting feeling nervous, starting making mistakes, starting feeling the pressure. It was hard to stay calm through all that, knowing what they are capable of doing.”

O’Brien called a timeout at 12-12 in the fifth set to calm her players. Then sophomore Billie Ross took a deep breath and served out the match with Schoene delivering the decisive kill.

“It was really good to have that intensity and adversity heading into state,” O’Brien said. “It very much mimicked what we will see at state.”

Schoene said the key was the Wildcats believing in each other, something the team began to foster at the start of practices in the summer.

“This team is different because I feel like we’re friends as well as teammates, and it’s not very cliquey as a lot of teams can be,” Schoene said. “So I think that helps with the chemistry on the court as well as off because we enjoy being around each other. So that helps a lot.”

O’Brien said the players were disappointed to learn that La Center was unable to charter a bus to take them to Yakima this weekend. Instead, the team will travel in separate vans.

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“They were like ‘isn’t there a way that we can all be together?’ ” O’Brien said. “They just enjoying being together. After the district championship match, they had a sleepover at one of the girls’ house. I haven’t coached a team like this. They just literally love each other.

“They’re a great group. It’s almost like magic in a bottle a little bit.”

And that magic starts with Schoene leading the way.

“She’s been a great addition to our team and stepped right into a leadership role,” O’Brien said. “Everyone really respects her and supports her. She’s an easy kid to like.”

La Center is seeded No. 3 in the state tournament and will open play against Eastside Prep of Seattle at 3:45 p.m. Friday at the Yakima SunDome.

The Wildcats are looking for their first state trophy in volleyball since winning three straight from 1993-95, including a state title in 1994. O’Brien was a member of the 1993 La Center squad that placed third.

When asked what she was looking forward to most this weekend, Schoene had a simple reply.

“Winning,” Schoene said. “That’s main goal. That’s what we’re going there to do.”

Tim Martinez is the assistant sports editor/prep coordinator for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4538, tim.martinez@columbian.com, or follow his Twitter handle @360TMart.