The Washougal High School (WHS) volleyball program has been on a huge upswing.
The Panthers have qualified for the 2A District 1 tournament in each of the past two seasons, marking the first back-to-back playoff appearances for the program since 1989.
Last season WHS went 7-10 and finished fourth in the 2A Greater St. Helens League, but nine players from that team graduated and three others left the program , leaving just three players with varsity experience including seniors Gracie Dolan and Elise Moore.
“We are going to have to start from scratch literally, because none of us have really played on this level,” said the 6-foot Dolan, a third-year varsity player, “so I really think we have to work together and have a good attitude.”
Losing 12 seniors would be devastating for most programs, but Panthers coach Mallorie Henker doesn’t see it that way.
“We don’t feel like it was a loss,” she said. “We feel like this is a brand new team with new goals, higher expectations, and I think we are going to be very successful.”
Henker likes what she’s seeing from her young team.
“We may be young, but our skills are good and we are looking really finely tuned,” she said. “Once they figure things out, we are really going to make things rumble in our league.”
Henker has already set a high goal for her team.
“My girls are going to play hard, and we are going to get a top-four position in the league and make it to the district tournament and then move on to state this year,” she said. “That’s our goal. We are going to state this year.”
WHS is loaded with experienced athletes, including state champion basketball players Skylar Bea and Jaiden Bea. Last fall Skylar played junior varsity volleyball and Jaiden was on the Panthers’ girls soccer team, but both will be key players for the Panthers’ varsity volleyball team this season.
“It’s really great to have athletes with that winning mentality,” said Henker, who played at the college level for Warner Pacific College and has coached WHS for the past seven seasons.
While the Panthers’ varsity team may have a lot of new faces, the faces aren’t new to the WHS volleyball program, and most have played and trained together since junior high school.
Joining the new group of players are juniors Serena Musick and Sierra Musick, twin sisters who recently moved to Washougal from Stevenson and are anxious to make an impact.
“I think they are great for our program,” Dolan said. “They add so much life, energy and talent to our program.”