IHS volleyball team in a huddle

The Interlake High School volleyball program has seen its share of ups and downs over the years. From winning seasons to tough losses, the coaches and athletes have faced every challenge head-on. And as of the past year, the program has navigated the adversity that comes with a pandemic. Eduardo Guerrero, Interlake’s Varsity Coach, shared his insights on the journey with an “amazing group of athletes” who helped rebuild the team over the last four years.

Return to the State Championship

In 2016, the team lost seven graduating seniors, leaving the program no choice but to rebuild. The coaching staff began this process by working with ninth and tenth grade students, giving them the guidance needed to play high level volleyball by their junior and senior seasons. The goal was to get the players as much exposure to the game as they could in two hours of practice each day.

In this time of growth, the team experienced the highs and lows of the sport. In both 2018 and 2019, the Saints qualified for the KingCo Conference Final, but ultimately lost both games. Despite disappointing finishes, the experiences stirred up the team’s desire to compete. With this new-found energy, the Saints rallied at the 2019 Sea-King District Tournament to achieve their ultimate goal — reaching the 3A WIAA State Championship for the first time since 1999.

Even reaching States was a major accomplishment, bringing joy and energy to the practices leading up to the main event. The athletes already knew that they were one of the top teams in the 3A division statewide, but they still showed up to practice each day willing to prove that they deserved their spot. The most beautiful experience within this, according to Guerrero, was in the second match of the tournament, where the team won their first game at State in 20 years. This advanced them to the second round, putting the Saints in the top nine at the State Championship.

Second Chance at a 2020-2021 Season

Although the fall 2020 season was suspended due to the pandemic, the team considered the 2021 spring season to be a gift. Despite many uncertainties along the way, everyone stayed positive and found ways to remain competitive and cohesive.

Guerrero stated that the team’s seniors were particularly grateful for the opportunity to play. Every practice and game, someone always reminded the team that they should practice hard because of what it took to get to this point. Their excitement to play kept them going, especially after knowing that they might not get to have a senior season. The highlight of the season was simply being able to play, which was made possible through support from IHS, BSD athletics, the KingCo Conference and Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association.

Co-Captains Leading the Way

In addition to leading the team through a pandemic, three seniors and co-captains, Bianca Greydinger, Sophie Kalecinski and Courtney McCormack, were integral in the success of the team in their own rights. Their commitment to the program and its culture over the past few years helped strengthen the team on and off the court.

Bianca Greydinger came to Interlake because of the International Baccalaureate Program, which requires rigorous coursework and high grades. She joined as a setter, and in the middle of her freshman season, she was moved to play as a libero, or back-row defensive specialist. Whatever position Greydinger played, she did it with tenacity in order to make the team better. In four seasons of volleyball, she never missed a practice or a game — demonstrating true commitment to the role and the team.

Sophie Kalecinski had no volleyball experience when she came to Interlake. However, during the ninth grade open house event, she approached the team’s table with a lot of friends and said, “I want to sign up for volleyball.” Upon successfully making it through tryouts, she began on the C-Team. Kalecinski’s offensive skills earned her a spot on the varsity team in her sophomore year, enabling her to play a key role in the 2019 State Championship season.

Courtney McCormack joined the team with some club experience but didn’t begin with a main role. Upon getting more practice and playing time, she learned to play the game that Interlake wanted to play. She became more and more important for the team, especially in the Saints’ 2019 bid for States. McCormack was a player who always came to practice ready to work and improve. Some practices and games were difficult, but because of her commitment, she overcame all difficulties and finished her fourth year as an important player on and off the court.

New Beginnings after Graduation

With the end of the school year nearing, the class of 2021 will now move on to new opportunities, some with plans of heading to college in the fall. After years of discipline and teamwork, Coach Guerrero said that he has no doubt that these athletes will work hard in everything they want to pursue. “When they want something, they know that even if it’s hard, it is not impossible.”

The Bellevue School District acknowledges that we learn, work, live and gather on the Indigenous Land of the Coast Salish peoples, specifically the Duwamish and Snoqualmie Tribes. We thank these caretakers of this land, who have lived and continue to live here, since time immemorial.