Centralia volleyball head coach Marti Smith has been doing this for a long time. She has worked with numerous teams over the years — whether as an assistant or at the helm of the Tigers’ program — but the thing that stands out the most about the 2022 version of Centralia’s volleyball team is how tight-knit the team already is.
In just their second week of practice, Smith has already seen a level of chemistry that stands out in her group this year, despite many new players in new roles.
“It’s a whirlwind right now,” Smith said. “It’s very exciting. Now that we have our teams established, we can get some things figured out. We’re in a rebuilding period right now, but we’re very excited with who we have. The personnel and chemistry is really good.”
Gone are a trio of seniors that had played plenty of varsity volleyball for the Tigers in years past. Evie Rooklidge, Jadyn Hawley, and Ella Orr have all graduated, leaving a void — especially defensively — that the Tigers need to fill if they want to compete in the ever-competitive 2A Evergreen Conference.
But part of what has made this current group feel special and unique, is that many of the previous Centralia standouts from years past haven’t completely left.
Rooklidge, an all-area pick a year ago and do-it-all libero for the Tigers, asked Smith if she could stop by practice to help out and give tips to newer players. Danika Jensen, a 2019 grad, and Hailey Brann, a 2020 graduate, have also helped out this preseason.
With two more former Centralia graduates on the coaching staff in Tucker Sutton and Payton Zandofsky, when the Tigers talk about a family atmosphere, they really mean it.
“I’m constantly getting requests to come in and help,” Smith said. “It says a lot about what we build here. We talk about being a family, we truly are a family.
“They always feel like they’re a part of the program, this is their home.”
It also helps that Centralia has some family on the team. Smith’s daughter, Peyton, is a senior on the team and has taken on more of a leadership role on a squad with not a lot of varsity experience.
“I try to be the more fun type, but if I see people lacking or not see them put 100% effort, I’ll stop and say something,” Peyton Smith said. “You definitely need to find the middle ground and be the comforting person.”
Along with Peyton Smith, Tatum Johnston will add some much-needed experience to the middle of Centralia’s attack, as a leader and blocker. Another player that has stepped up in the week-plus of practices so far has been Lauren Wasson, who has dealt with severe knee injuries in recent years but is finally approaching full health.
“I’ve never seen someone want to get on the court so badly and play and work so hard,” Peyton Smith said.
No matter what the circumstances, though, regardless of returning experience, coach Marti Smith is proud of the culture that she and her players — both current and former — have built over the years.
She wants her teams to be hard-nosed, scrappy, and play stout defense. Though the Tigers will be smaller and maybe not as strong as some league opponents, they hope to beat teams with greater chemistry.
“I think we have a group that has great chemistry and these kids can work well together,” Marti Smith said. “Even if we’re lacking in height and power hitters, if they can get along and work together, they can cause havoc for other teams. I fully trust that my team can push in there for the top three or four spots.”
The Tigers open the 2022 season against Olympic on the road next Tuesday for their first game action.