MARYSVILLE — Grace Academy proved to be a tough opponent for Tulalip Heritage volleyball on Friday, Sept. 20, when the Eagles topped the Hawks in a 3-0 match.
“We are undefeated this season, which is very exciting,” said Grace Academy head coach Ashley Fitzmaurice. “During my first year here, I only had two girls that ever touched a volleyball before — and we only won two games that year. The following year we only had a little experience, but we improved, winning four games. Last year was our biggest jump. We went from winning four games to 13. All the girls who were freshman are now juniors and have that experience.”
The improvement from the Eagles may be due in part to consistent training from Fitzmaurice, a former varsity star for another Eagles team — Arlington.
“We have been focusing on fundamentals,” she said. “They lacked a consistency of coaches. Before me, there was a different coach every year. This year, we are looking to finally go to state, and hopefully we get there.”
The experience of Grace’s team was too much for the young Hawks, who graduated a number of players last season.
“We have just three girls who came back from last year,” said Amy Andrews, head coach of Tulalip Heritage. “We have five seniors, but we have a couple who didn’t play last year with us. So far this season we are 2-2 in our conference, and then we lost one match to Concrete. I think it is going really well. The team is working really hard on coming together as a team.”
The Hawks beat Skykomish and Lummi Nation early in the season, both 3-0 matches.
“It was good, it was definitely good getting a couple wins to boost their confidence, and in the other games that we played I knew that it would be possible to pull it out and have that confidence. When we played Skykomish, I thought we played really well,” said Andrews. “It was a good competitive match and I think they were intimidated heading into the game against Grace Academy. Right now, we are focusing on the fundamentals. What I am going to be telling them this week, especially after playing Grace, is ‘Play your game. Play the way you know you can play.’ We don’t want the other team to intimidate us and make us lose focus on what we can achieve. We just need to come in and play our game.”
Although the Hawks were defeated by Grace Academy, they made sure to never quit.
“I think that they tried really hard to keep their spirits up,” said Andrews. “I think they tried really hard to keep encouraging each other, but I could tell that the way they played was not their game, and their confidence was shaken up. I hope that it is something over the next week or two that will not shake us so that we can still go in there and play the way I know we can play.”
The volleyball program at Tulalip Heritage is still growing and Andrews is confident that the team can overcome their challenges.
“I have some really great girls,” she said. “I think the challenge coming in is that we really have to build up the program. It’s step by step right now. This year, I definitely see a lot more interest in volleyball, and it’s still building. My roster isn’t completely set because we are still in that building stage, and I’m hoping, with consistency, they’ll know what to expect and will start coming out in August instead of waiting until the start of school. More than half of the team never touched a volleyball until they came out for tryouts. It’s a great motivation for them to have the opportunity to play, and it even helps motivate them to keep their grades up. Watching them go from no skills at all to passing the ball out on the court — it’s exciting for me as a coach because I get to see a ton of improvement.”
Fitzmaurice is training the Eagles on mental toughness to prepare them for their goal of making it to state.
“We are really focusing on mental toughness and what it means to be a competitor,” she said. “There is still a lot of work to do on mental toughness, and we do mental toughness training every week. As long as we take the focus off the individual and put it on the team, it helps. I think near the end of the season we will be coming to face more difficult teams to get to state. Right now our league is not as strong as it used to be. It may be a struggle where they become content to be where they are. We made it this far, but it’s not what it’s going to take to get to state. There is more to work on. The other teams that we face to make it to state are not going to be on the same level of teams we are playing currently, and if we really want to get there we have to work for it and not take it easy during practice. I just don’t want them to get content because it will get harder during the end of the season.”
Tulalip Heritage faces Lopez in an away match on Friday, Sept. 27, at 2:30 p.m. Grace Academy faces Highland Christian at home on Friday, Sept. 27, at 5:30 p.m.