Volleyball Bond Hoping to Lead Vikings Back to State Championship Game
FOURTH TIMES A CHARM: Core Group Looking For One Final Run Playing Volleyball Together
By Matt Baide
Three straight championship games for any team at any level of sport is an accomplishment. Losing three straight championship games is certainly heartbreaking, but second place doesn’t hurt as much so long as you have the next season to look forward to.
Mossyrock’s senior class has never ended the season outside of the state championship game. Andee Nelson, Amy Fitzhugh, Faith Mulligan and Shania Hadaller have seen their fair share of championship games. Along with junior Morgan Houghtelling, the five ladies have been playing together since elementary school.
“It’s been a lot of fun. We’ve played from my fifth grade year so that was Morgan’s fourth grade year,” Andee Nelson said. “We played all together until my eighth grade year and then I went to a different club my ninth grade year but we played for four solid years together for sure. It was a lot of fun and we won a lot of tournaments when we were younger so that was cool.”
Head coach Alex Nelson is Andee’s mother and has watched all of these girls grow up in club volleyball.
“You can see that there are quite a few girls on the same team and they all played together, which is rare for a small little school to have so many girls participating on a club team so it was fun for them starting so young,” Alex Nelson said. “It made a huge difference, just that little bit of time spent playing a club shows up the next year. Sometimes it’s hard to see during club because they’re such competitive teams during club but then the next year when they’re playing with their peers and against some of the teams in the league, you can see a huge improvement. I think you’re seeing the dividends today when you look at Mossyrock volleyball, a lot of girls put in a lot of extra time.”
The girls have been playing together for so long, sometimes they don’t even need to communicate on the court, which can be an issue.
“The not having to communicate thing is beneficial and non-beneficial. Sometimes it causes miscommunications and dropped balls but other times it’s just kind of an instinct like I’m not going to get this because I know Andee is going to be right there,” Mulligan said. “That helps in a way because we trust each other I guess in that sense. That’s really helpful but yeah, we do have to work on the talking a little bit.”
In their freshman year, the senior class made an improbable run to the championship game, defeating defending champion Colfax in the quarterfinals and Napavine in the semifinals before losing a five set thriller to Kalama in the title game.
As sophomores, the team had a solid senior class that dropped just two games en route to the title match, but lost to Colfax in five sets in the championship.
Last year, the team wasn’t expecting to get to the title game, having to come up with a new plan just days before the state tournament.
“We lost Shania (Hadaller), our setter and had to with a completely different lineup days before the state championship. There’s not too many teams that can have that type of change like lose their setter and do what they did,” Alex Nelson said. “That was their commitment to passing and serving because we really don’t have a super star. There’s not one girl that carried us throughout that. It was a team commitment and I think everyone was saying it, ‘How is Mossyrock without their setter beating all these great teams?’ They were good teams and I think it’s their character and their commitment and skills that aren’t flashy but they’re very fundamental.”
Even with three championship losses, the Vikings realize they have accomplished something that not many people can claim.
“I view it as a huge accomplishment. I think that second place is nothing to be down about. I don’t think a whole lot of people can say they’ve played in three straight championships so all credit to Alex and my teammates,” Mulligan said. “We’re in this gym all the time practicing whether it’s volleyball season or not. I just think it’s a really cool experience to share that with my teammates and not even just the volleyball part but just being around those people all the time and making those memories. I’ll remember those ones forever.”
With the last three years in mind, Mossyrock’s goal this year is to get right back to where they’ve been and after last year’s circumstances, there’s no one that can stop their belief.
“Last year, we were not expecting, we were hoping. Let’s focus on winning our first game and then when we won that, our energy changed and we can do this and there’s nothing stopping us if we believe and hustle and that’s really what helped us,” Andee Nelson said. “We kind of gave up in the championship game last year but I think it was just because we were tired and it was hard going from me, Morgan and Faith never setting and then just throwing it together like two days before state and just figuring it all out. I think we did so well because we all have such a strong knowledge of volleyball and have been playing for so long that we could do stuff like that and still make it that far.”
Hadaller is still battling injuries so the team will keep that look from last year’s state tournament to start the season at least.
“Morgan (Houghtelling), I think this is going to be her first year setting in high school because Shania got hurt. I’m going to be playing libero because that’s what’s better for the team and Andee is still playing outside but that’s just her position, that’s where she needs to be,” Mulligan said. “I think the changes that we’re making this year are going to benefit us a lot. I think having me as libero this year is going to be helpful because that’s my strength and then that’s what the team needs most. The switch, it kind of made me a little sad but I think I’m doing it for the team and it’s going to be best for that.”
Alex has some tough decisions on her hands during the season, with the volleyball program having some depth and quite a few girls eager to earn some playing time.
“It’s a very tough problem I have. I have so many that are good and in fact, I have about three different lineups that I’m looking at using throughout the season just because I do have so many girls that are deserving of playing but they just can’t all fit in one lineup,” Alex Nelson said. “There are some key players that are definitely going to play most of the time and there are some young girls that have taken notice of what they’ve accomplished and want a little bit of that for themselves. There are some young players that are definitely going to be fighting for playing time but I think that’s a healthy dynamic to have on the team is to have people having to fight for playing time and it propels you to the next level so I’m excited about that.”
It is the final year Andee will play for her mom and it is a bittersweet feeling.
“So my mom is a very emotional person and so am I so I’ll be pretty sad when it’s over and so will she and she coached me in elementary and you can coach your daughter in club for as long as you want,” Andee Nelson said. “My mom would always come and help so it’s just going to be different not having my mom there but ready to try new things I guess. I love playing for my mom but it’s just like I’m a little sassy sometimes because she’s my mom and it’s just different from many other coaches I guess but I’m going to miss having her as a coach for sure and playing for her.”
Andee Nelson and Mulligan are both looking to pursue volleyball in college. Ava Nelson, Andee’s older sister, is a sophomore playing volleyball at Pacific Lutheran University.
After this season, they won’t be in a Viking uniform but they will have left their mark on Mossyrock and will always have the game of volleyball.
“We had four different groups from Mossyrock playing on club teams so it’s definitely not an end on what I would like to continue to do but it’s a sad ending in that it’s my daughter and the kids that she grew up with,” Alex Nelson said. “Of course having that there, staying the night with each other, you get to know those kids really well and yes it will be sad and I will miss them but another thing is that I’m excited to say is I think a lot of these girls will continue. I think they will make great coaches and I think you will see them surrounded by volleyball coaching. Some of them like Amy (Fitzhugh) coached the 12 year olds last year so I think a lot of these girls will continue to stay in volleyball. I hope it was a fun experience and they want to do the same for others.”