Six years ago, a group of young Hoquiam Middle School volleyball players caught the eye of current Grizzlies head coach Heather Bozich.
The nine-year veteran head coach saw something in that group of student-athletes that made her believe they would someday be 1A Evergreen League champions.
On Thursday, that dream was fulfilled.
Hoquiam was solid in every aspect of the game to upend a Montesano in straight sets and claim the 1A Evergreen League title in Montesano.
Hoquiam won its first league title since 2012 — when it shared the league crown with Montesano — with a convincing 25-18, 25-20 and 25-23 victory over a Bulldogs team that had won four straight matches entering the regular-season finale.
“I am so happy for them,” Bozich said of her players winning the outright league crown. “Them getting to experience this success now, that is what makes my heart happy.”
The Grizzlies (15-0 overall, 8-0 1A Evergreen) won in a similar fashion that has kept them unbeaten through all 15 regular-season contests — scrappy defense, pinpoint passing and feeding multiple hitters that can flat-out smash the ball.
Faith Prosch led a trio of Grizzly hitters with double-digit kills on Thursday. The junior outside hitter had 11 kills while junior middle blocker Kristina Goulet and senior middle blocker Chloe Kennedy had 10 kills apiece in the contest.
Hoquiam’s point-scoring prowess was facilitated by senior setter Ella Folkers, who distributed a whopping 32 assists in the victory.
The Grizzlies defense was just as good.
Hoquiam’s back line dug up everything on Thursday in a masterful performance led by senior libero Graci Bonney-Spradlin, who had a game-best 22 digs.
Prosch (18 digs), Folkers (17 digs) and senior Ashlinn Cady (15 digs) each recorded double-digit digs in the win while Kennedy (6 solo blocks) and Goulet (5 blocks, 3 solo blocks) made life difficult at the net for Monte hitters.
The first set was close with several ties and lead changes through the first 20 points, but Hoquiam got out to a 14-10 lead that stretched to 17-11 on a Prosch drop shot.
Hoquiam held a 23-15 lead on a Goulet kill and closed out the set when a Kennedy kill was deflected off a block and out of bounds.
In the second set, Hoquiam jumped out to a 7-1 lead that included two hard kills and a block from Kennedy.
The Grizzlies stretched the lead to 18-8 on an unforced Monte error, causing a Bulldogs timeout.
A Cady kill put Hoquiam up 22-12, but the Bulldogs rallied behind blocks from senior Addie Winter and sophomore Kalia Hatton to cut the deficit to 24-16.
Hoquiam failed to convert on five straight set points before a Monte shot sailed over the line for the Grizzlies 25-20 win.
Montesano (10-7, 6-2) was competitive in the early going of the third set, getting out to a 6-3 lead after a Hoquiam hitting error, its largest lead of the match.
Hoquiam led 17-14 when Monte embarked on a five-point scoring streak highlighted by back-to-back kills from senior Ashlyn Devereaux and capped by a Winter block to put Monte up 19-17, forcing a Hoquiam timeout.
The Grizzlies would outscore Monte 8-4 the rest of the way, closing out the match and securing a league title when a Goulet kill was deflected out of bounds, setting off a historic Hoquiam celebration on the court.
“This means so much for us,” Folkers said of the league title. “We’ve literally worked so hard for this. … Everything that we did was for this. It’s the world and it feels so good.”
“This has been a goal of ours since we started playing in high school,” Bonney-Spradlin said. “Monte has always been our biggest rivalry and it means the world to all of us. … Our team goes by ‘relentless.’ That is our motivation. That is our word. We have looked to this game since Monday. … The whole week has been about this game and we’ve been ready for it since Monday.”
“All I know is I was in the middle of the court, hugging my family and we were all crying,” Kennedy said of the moment she and her teammates became league champions. “It was a relief, honestly, because we knew that we deserved it and we have been working for it all year and to know that it finally happened is crazy.”
With the victory, the Grizzlies not only clinch the league title and No. 1 playoff seed entering next week’s district tournament, but have completed an undefeated 2022 campaign.
Barring any late-addition tune-up matches ahead of districts, Hoquiam completed one of its most impressive runs since the Grizzlies first qualified for the state tournament back in 1994.
Hoquiam has lost just two sets all season — one to Montesano and one to Elma — and has won by straight sets in 13 of its 15 games played, earning the No. 8 spot in the latest WIAA RPI rankings.
“That wasn’t really what we set out to do, but I’ll take it,” said Bozich, who played on thet ‘94 team. “It’s crazy to think about. … I didn’t think about an undefeated season. I wanted to get some good experience, to peak ant the right time and get some confidence going into districts and they’ve done that.”
“It feels amazing and we couldn’t have done it without all our girls,” Bonney-Spradlin said of the undefeated season. “Everybody plays a part and it feels so amazing.”
“I have no words,” Folkers said. “It feels amazing. It feels accomplished. We’ve worked for this.”
“It’s amazing and I’m so grateful to be a part of it and so grateful that I can be with the girls that I’m with right now,” said Kennedy, who had her co-league MVP season cut short last year after suffering a knee injury on the very same court. “It’s honestly like a family and going into districts we are going to keep that family vibe.”
Montesano was led by Devereaux (6 kills), Winter (6 kills), Hatton (5 kills, 2 blocks), Maia Young (4 kills) and Karissa Otterstetter (7 assists).
The Bulldogs, who have been without reigning co-league MVP McKynnlie Dalan this season due to injury, were further bit by the injury bug when setter Jordan Karr went out during the third set with a wrist injury and did not return.
Montesano head coach Pat Pace not only commended Hoquiam’s defensive ability but said the key to the Grizzlies win was how players such as Ashlinn Cady and Faith Prosch stepped up on Thursday.
“They did a much better job of attacking us tonight than we did attacking them,” Pace said. “They just kept hitting … I’ve got to take my hat off to Cady and Prosch. They were game-changers.”
Montesano had won four straight games — including a 3-2 win over 2A WF West earlier in the week — before Thursday’s loss.
Pace said despite the loss he likes how his team is playing heading into districts.
“I’m pretty proud of the way they are playing this time of year,” he said. “We’re going to go back to the drawing board. … We plan on playing better when we play at King’s Way (Christian) on Wednesday. … We are playing some of our best volleyball and that really shows how good Hoquiam is.”
Monte will play at Trico League No. 2 seed Castle Rock (14-3) in the district tournament at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday (subject to change).
Hoquiam will host Trico League No. 4 seed Stevenson (8-5) at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday (subject to change).
Hoquiam 25 25 25 — 3
Montesano 18 20 23 — 0