POULSBO — The signs have been everywhere.
In the gym, where students will occasionally, and gleefully, fling themselves to the floor.
During practice, where they will confirm their devotion to a single, one-word cause.
On the wall, where a strange motto has been posted for everyone to follow.
Last year, the North Kitsap volleyball team was devoted to defense. This year, that devotion has become something similar to an organized religion. And behind it, North Kitsap’s players are hoping to lead the league in floor burns — and perhaps lead the league, period.
“We’re going to play a lot of defense,” said head coach Clay Blackwood. “We’re going to swarm to the ball. It’s going to be like a hot potato, and it’s going to be on (the opponent’s) side, not ours.”
Blackwood said the devotion to defense was born partly out of the team’s hard-working senior leadership, partly out of his own coaching philosophy, and partly because of the loss of Sheena Brundage, last year’s all-league junior, who moved to Colorado over the summer.
The loss leaves the Vikings with only one player who is 5’11” — not necessarily a sign that they’re going to dominate with height, as the 6’0” Brundage was able to do last year.
“Well miss her,” said Blackwood. “She’s a phenomenal player. But I’ve still got nine phenomenal players.”
Those players have been working hard over the last few weeks to pick up the new defensive system.
That work has included plenty of defensive drills, as players confirmed with a wince.
In one, they fling themselves right at Blackwood’s word, then left, then right again.
Co-captain Katie Cortner said of the drill, “You look stupid, but it works.”
The defensive philosophy has been drilled in other ways. A sign posted on the gym wall outlines the “Pursuit Rule.”
Sentence No. 1 reads: “Every player must do everything possible to retrieve every ball in every defensive situation. It does not matter that the ball appears undiggable or unretrievable.”
A recent practice shows the philosophy is setting in, as players chased the volleyball from one court to another, flinging themselves toward corners, walls, and occasionally teammates to save the ball.
Co-captain Adrienne Carter recounted the philosophy by saying, “We’ll be scrappy, picking up every ball. It’s about diving everywhere. Running everywhere.”
While Blackwood is proud of the defense and effort of the team, he knows the other areas will have to be strong to begin league play Oct. 3 against Shelton. The team’s serving is also strong, he said, and they will work on hitting and offense as the season takes shape.
He wants a return trip to districts as bad as the players do, and think they’re capable of getting there.
“I expect big things out of this team.” Blackwood said. “We’re short, but we’re scrappy. And we’ll play smart.”
As the pursuit-rule sign says, “The pursuit is always on!”