Coming off five wins in its last six matches, the Oak Harbor High School volleyball team hopes to use that momentum to carry it deep into the playoffs.
To achieve postseason success, the Wildcats will lean on two of its top players, senior Hailee Blau and junior Cami Bristow.
Blau, Bristow and the rest of the Wildcats begin district tournament play at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, in a loser-out match with Squalicum.
Getting by the Storm to reach the eight-team, double-elimination portion of the tournament won’t be easy. Squalicum, with a 12-3 record, is ranked eighth in the state 3A poll, and all three of its losses have come to other ranked teams: Burlington-Edison, ranked first in 2A; Lynden Christian, ranked third in 1A; and Ferndale, ranked sixth in 3A.
Oak Harbor (7-5, 8-6) finished sixth in the 13-team Western Conference and is the league’s No. 7 seed. The Wildcats would like to catch a ride on the magic carpet used by another seventh-seeded Oak Harbor team, the club from 2013. That group went on to place second in the district tournament and sixth at state.
One at a time
Oak Harbor coach Kerri Molitor said if her club is going to earn one of the three state tournament berths allocated to District 1, the Wildcats will have to take it “one game at a time.”
“If we can focus on things we can control, the team plays as a unit,” she said. “Trust is our key component.
“I know that this group wants to make our postseason play the best it can be,” she added. “They won’t hold anything back.”
The team’s recent success, Bristow said, is because the team is “more connected.”
Blau added, “At the beginning of the season we weren’t as connected; now we are — it just takes time. We are also friends off the court, which helps.”
Keeping the energy level up is critical, according to Bristow, while Blau said the team needs to move past mistakes.
“When something goes wrong, we need to understand that’s OK; we can come together to make up for it,” Blau said.
Blau, at 6-feet, 3-inches, is figuratively and literally Oak Harbor’s biggest weapon. Bristow, who is 5-5, is the Wildcats’ most consistent and competitive player, according to Molitor.
“Hailee and Cami need to know that they are leaders on the team, and to just lead by example,” Molitor said. “They cannot do it alone. Our team needs to play together and trust in our destiny. They are each a component of our success. When they play steady and with confidence, it shows support and faith in our team.”
When the season finally ends, Blau’s outstanding career will also come to a close. The left-handed hitter’s name is all over the Oak Harbor record board, and she can add to those totals as the Wildcats progress through the playoffs.
Since 2004, Blau, a four-year starter, is first in games played (319), first in career kills (982), second in attack percentage (.244), second in regular-season kills (668), third in single-season kills (361), second in single-match kills (33) and third in postseason kills (89). She is also second in career blocks (211.5) and second in regular-season career blocks (139.5).
“I have always known Hailee would emerge as dominant force on the court, but as I reflect on the past four years, I am so proud of the person she has become,” Molitor said. “It is easy to appreciate Hailee’s dominance on the court, but I am so proud of the kind, thoughtful, unique person she is off the court.”
While Bristow is Oak Harbor’s most rounded player (she is second on the team in kills and digs), she excels at the serving line. She has 33 aces this season, almost double the next Wildcat. With a year of eligibility remaining, she is already second in career aces with 107. She is also third on the single-season list (54) and holds the fourth highest single match mark (6).
“She is a natural leader,” Molitor said. “She is open, honest and kind to everyone. She might be small in stature, but she plays ‘big’ on the court. She is a fierce competitor and leads the team through positive example.”
Molitor noted that Blau and Bristow have more similarities than differences, including earning varsity spots as freshmen, logging countless hours to improve their games, excelling in school and school activities and becoming leaders in the community.
“Most importantly, they are excellent examples of what a student-athlete should represent at Oak Harbor High School,” Molitor said. “They show Wildcat P.R.I.D.E. on and off the court.” (P — passion for the game; R — respect for others; I — integrity; D — dedication to academics and volleyball; and E — excellence in all they do.)
Blau and Bristow both said that success in the postseason won’t be measured by how many wins the Wildcats rack up.
“I want the season to end on a high note,” Blau said. “Win or lose, I want us to play well and to play as one.
“If we give it our best effort, then it will be a good tournament,” Bristow said.
And that is the tall and short of it.