Nine months ago, the Emerald Ridge High School volleyball team eclipsed expectations when they advanced to the Class 4A state tournament. The Jaguars had five sophomores and seven total underclassmen.
The 2013 season, which kicks off with practice on Aug. 26, will be different as the Jaguars will be one of the favorites to bring home a state trophy. The team went 1-2 at state last November.
Junior outside hitter Jenna Mullen played a pivotal role in her team’s success and will shoulder an even bigger spotlight as a leader this fall. Mullen led the team in kills and was named co-MVP of the South Puget Sound League’s South Division.
“I’m excited to continue our team’s success,” she said. “Our goals are to reclaim the league title and hopefully get through districts and on to the state tournament.”
The Jaguars held team practices twice week this summer until July 31. Since August began, Mullen and fellow team captain Tristyn Smith, a middle hitter, have organized workouts in order to help continue the team’s ascent.
“We’re training hard right now,” Mullen said. “We’ve had open gyms and scrimmages on our own. We want to get better and stronger as a team so we are ready to go when the first day of the season starts.”
Mullen said she’s being pursued by many college coaches, but she’s putting that on the back-burner for now.
“I have a lot of time to decide which school I will go to,” she said. “Right now I’m focused on Emerald Ridge volleyball and continuing our success as a team and a program.”
Mullen comes from an athletic family. Her father, Pat, is a longtime basketball and track coach, and her mother, Jill, played outside hitter for the University of Puget Sound in the early 1990s.
“Jenna started playing volleyball in the second grade,” Jill Fox-Mullen said. “She has always had great natural athletic ability, and that has helped her out in all sports. She fell in love with volleyball, and that love for the game has helped her develop into the player she is today.”
Mullen said it’s a big responsibility to be the Jaguars’ go-to-player.
“I know when the pressure is on I have to be at my best so I don’t the team down,” she said. “I can’t ever get down, because I don’t want my teammates to see that. When things go bad, I just shake it off and do the best I can to help our team in that moment, and do everything I can to help our team win.”
Emerald Ridge head coach Bobby McGivern said expectations are high this year.
“We’re hoping to finish in the top four (in the state),” he said. “The goal is to get to that semi-final match, and win that and have a chance to play in the finals.
“There are a lot of tough teams out there,” he added. “Bellarmine is obviously going to be the top team. From there on down, I’m not sure who the teams to beat are. There are a lot of competitive teams out there. We obviously have to get through league and districts, too.”
McGivern said he will rely on Mullen and Smith to provide the veteran the leadership on a team dominated by underclassmen.
“There is a great connection between those two,” he said. “They both want it (a state championship) as bad as the next player does. They’re great leaders.”