Edmonds (27-12, 9-3 North) comes into the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the NWAC after winning its last five matches. The tournament kicks off Thursday morning on the fifth floor of the Greater Tacoma Convention Center. The Tritons play a familiar opponent in their first-round match in Linn-Benton CC. The Roadrunners defeated the Tritons in three early-season matches this year – 2-0 at the kickoff NWAC Showcase, 3-2 on the Roadrunners' home floor September 4, and again 2-0 at the Bellevue College Invite on September 7.
“They have a couple nice hitters, play relentless defense, and serve tough,” said Edmonds head coach Tony Miranda of Linn-Benton, which finished as the No. 3 seed from the South Region and went 27-10 overall.
|Edmonds CC volleyball at the banquet|
The Tritons have qualified for the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year under Miranda. Last year they placed fourth at this tournament. Three players were selected as NWAC North Region All-Stars as announced by the conference at the banquet Wednesday night. Sophomores Sadie Gardner and Haylee Hooper were first-team picks, and freshman Danika Brown made the second team.
Gardner has been a stalwart. She leads the team in kills as an outside hitter, and is an overall talent.
“She’s more than the kills. She gets aces, digs, blocks,” Miranda said. “On any given night she could be the best on our team in any of those categories.” Gardner earned the North Region Offensive Player of the Week award the final three weeks of the season.
Hooper overcame an injury during the season and has stepped up her defense since returning to the starting lineup. Along with Gardner, she is a two-time first-team selection in the North.
Brown has become good at scoring in transition. "She's making herself available to attack. Danika and Jerzie's (Pluid) blocking has made the opposing team's hitter do things they don't want to," Miranda said. Brown is an efficient hitter as well. Her .268 hitting percentage is best on the team and 12th overall in the NWAC.
For Edmonds to advance and have success Miranda thinks it starts and ends with his sophomores.
“They will have to lead like they have all year. They’ve played all different positions, all six rotation positions," he said. “They’ve been here before, they are tested … on the court, with how we play and how we prepare off the court. They are key."
This year’s team has overcome a multitude of injuries, and Miranda is proud of how the Tritons have bounced back.
“I’ve never had so many matches and sets lost due to injury on any team I’ve ever coached. This has been a resilient group,” Miranda said. “You lose your libero, lost your setters – the next person has stepped in and played well.”
Gardner has been the only sophomore that didn’t catch the injury bug. Hooper, the team’s returning all-league setter, went down for a stretch. Ludwig, the returning libero, had two injury stints. Weekes, who stepped up to fill a few different roles, went down before the regular-season finale.
Makalei Watson was the starting outside hitter when she was hampered. She is back, but not to full strength and missed most of region play. Sara Gauna also saw time on the bench.
Now with Weekes out, freshman Erin Doner will step up and assume the opposite hitter role. She was thrown into the fire the last match of the regular season and fared well. The Tritons swept previously undefeated Whatcom in straight sets. “Sara, Erin, and Jerzie have shown glimpses this year,” Miranda added.
In the last five games Ludwig and Hooper have re-established their chemistry. “Our offense works better when we get that good dig, set and swing off,” said Miranda. Down the stretch the Tritons have played great defense which has fueled the offense.
Miranda may have done his best coaching job this season, his 11th year as head coach in the NWAC.
“This team believes in each other and they trust each other," he said. "Our depth has been crucial. The next person up for us has been solid and has allowed us to compete.”
Edmonds has a tough draw if it’s to advance on the winners’ bracket side. No. 1-ranked North Idaho College and No. 2 Pierce are both on the same side of the bracket.
All three healthy sophomores – Gardner, Hooper, and Ludwig – will play in the All-Star Games on Sunday, November 24. The North faces the South first at 10:30 a.m. followed by another match at noon.
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