PORT ORCHARD — It might sound funny to say this about a program that has won six consecutive league championships, but North Kitsap could sneak up on some teams this season.
At first glance, the Vikings roster looks a little short on experience. Teams tend to salivate anytime one third of a varsity lineup consists of freshmen, even with three seniors and three juniors also in the fold.
The returners are plenty talented. Riley Rabedeaux and Noelani Barreith were both first-team all-league players and all-state honorable mention last season, and for good reason. Rabedeaux is arguably the best hitter in the West Sound and Barreith can play any position on the court at a high level, allowing the coaching staff the flexibility in moving players around. Junior Autumn Carver has a wicked serve and is also an excellent defender and senior Joslyn Leage makes the offense hum as the team’s setter.
Senior right side hitter Sydney Mahitka and junior defender Emma Orness also had part-time roles last season and should be in line for more court time.
But the Vikings also have three impressive-looking freshmen in Maddie Pryde, Emma Gaines and Sophia Baugh as well, and their maturation could help this team fly even higher. Pryde and Gaines both play the middle while Baugh is a setter.
“We’re really lucky because they’re super talented,” Rabedeaux said. “I think that’s going to be one of our strengths this year.”
It’s tough for a freshman to come in and play a prominent role on a team with such a successful recent history, and Rabedeaux herself knows that all too well. She stepped into a scoring role in her freshman year on a talented team laden with veteran leaders such as Olivia Selembo, Eunice Moran, Rae Rosenquist, Juliana Benson, Erin Pearson and Tori Carver, which made the transition an easy one.
“Everyone is so nice and supportive, you fit right in,” Rabedeaux said.
North Kitsap opened the season with a 3-0 victory over Kingston last Thursday and then swept South Kitsap on Tuesday night, 25-7, 25-14, 25-15. Rabedeaux led the offense with 14 kills and Carver had four aces.
The team was firing on all cylinders — the defense was tenacious, passing was crisp, hitters weren’t afraid to pound the ball into the floor and Barreith noted the blocking had improved from earlier in the season.
It was also the first coaching victory in a regular season match at North Kitsap for assistant coach Kaelea Makaiwi as she filled in for head coach Tim French, who missed the match due to a personal commitment. Makaiwi, once a head coach at Olympic College, has occasionally stepped in during regular season weekend tournaments, which don’t count in the official standings.
Makaiwi coached the team this past weekend in a tournament at the Yakima SunDome, where the Vikings gained additional confidence from getting to play against some of the state’s best teams. North Kitsap even split two sets with Richland, which finished second in the 4A state tournament last season.
“We took that dub to heart because we hung in there with a 4A school,” Barreith said.
The Vikings finally get to dive into the heart of their league schedule next week, beginning with an away match at Sequim on Tuesday, as they begin their quest for a seventh-consecutive league crown.
— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MKrulishKDN.