Bonding and winning on the volleyball court

Overlake girls get off to a sterling start.

New Overlake volleyball head coach Mindy McGrath was all smiles before practice on a recent Tuesday afternoon.

She’s got a stellar squad at her fingertips and the Owls are racking up copious victories early in the season. With a 7-1 overall record at press time, Overlake is ranked eighth in class 1A on the MaxPreps website.

“It’s not very often at the 1A level that you get to walk into a team that’s already very strong and very well rounded. The girls have been incredible. It’s just been an awesome experience,” said McGrath, adding that the girls play multiple positions and are teeming with excitement about playing with each other and continuing to build their skills arsenal.

Junior Sydney Goad, who is one of the Owls’ three captains, said that Overlake’s team spirit is at a premium and the squad possesses strong defenders and hitters.

“I think we’re a very close team,” said Goad, adding that they’ve welcomed three freshmen — China Bozarth, Ryma Patil and Sydney Martin — on board. “I feel like we’ve all (returners and newcomers) just clicked extremely well, which made our first game really fun. I feel like we’ve known each other for so long.”

Rounding out the captain crew are senior Annabelle Wiley and junior Ivy Haight, who stands 5-feet-11 along with sophomore Diya Mishra. Last season, Goad and senior Marusia Levanidova were all-Emerald City League first-teamers and Haight was a second-teamer.

Overlake notched league titles and earned state spots the last two seasons and won its first state game in school history last year.

Haight said that she thoroughly enjoys being part of such a successful program.

She listed a crucial takeaway from last season: “Over the course of the whole season, learning that it’s not the sprint in the beginning. Making sure we’re all rested up. I know getting back into school is always kind of tricky, so not completely burning everyone out in the beginning, but saving the best for last — which is state.”

McGrath knows the state-tournament terrain well. Last year, the WIAA state coach of the year guided her 1A Charles Wright Academy squad of Tacoma to second place at the Yakima Valley SunDome. This year, she moved closer to her family in Monroe and is now coaching and teaching physical education at Overlake.

“It just kind of worked out magically that they had what I needed to be able to move,” said McGrath. She replaces Justice Magraw, who had two stellar seasons at Overlake and is now part of the coaching staff at the University of Portland.

McGrath’s current squad advanced to the semifinals of the recent SunDome Volleyball Festival in Yakima.

The coach said she places a heavy focus on defense, passing and serving along with the psychological aspects of the team environment.

It’s all about, “Building a team and knowing your role on the team. Appreciating your value, whether it’s during the match if you’re the starting six or if you’re on the bench. For me, the important life lessons that sometimes you can only get through team sports,” McGrath said.

As Wiley entered the gym at the recent practice, she was thrilled to discuss how the players have grown together over the last few years and continued to build a successful program.

It’s Wiley’s last season with the Owls and there’s a vibrancy in her vocal delivery that newcomer McGrath also puts forth as she marches the team into action.

“This year has been great. We have so many amazing players just coming in and then returners coming back, and I feel like our team has never been this close before,” Wiley said. “We’re all just really supportive of each other. I think the best aspect of this team is just how everyone’s equally respectful. It doesn’t matter if you’re a senior or if you’re a freshman, we’re all on this team and we all give in to this game.”

Overlake’s Noe Phillips sets up a teammate during practice. Andy Nystrom/ staff photo

Overlake’s Noe Phillips sets up a teammate during practice. Andy Nystrom/ staff photo