A “common denominator” shared by Walla Walla High School volleyball teams led by former head coach Digger Graybill.
The 1994, 1999 and 2002 teams were among those that bought in.
Wa-Hi finished fifth in the 1994 Class 4A state tournament.
The Blue Devils upset top-seeded Ferris in the opening round of the 1999 regional tournament at a raucous Wa-Hi gym.
2002’s bumpers, setters, and spikers won a school-record 29 matches, went through Big Nine Conference competition unblemished, won the district championship, and advanced to state.
Graybill recalled the first team meeting before the 1994 season. He informed his players that he had already made hotel reservations for the state tournament. The news was met with “smiles and laughs — giggly excitement,” Graybill said.
“They realized we had the talent and we can do this,” Graybill said.
Wa-Hi — with Johanna Erlebach, Katie Kress, Jill (Watkins) Meliah, Kristi Ocampo, Lucita Zapata, Heather Pearce and Rochelle Angley in the fold — went undefeated in 1994 dual matches, Graybill said. A 15-8, 15-11, 15-2 sweep of Big 9 foe Kamiakin was an eye opener, Graybill said.
“People started to recognize us,” Graybill said. “We were ranked as high as No. 8 in the state.”
Wins against Pasco and Wenatchee, and victories over the Panthers and Kent-Meridian in a tournament hosted by Eisenhower, cemented the idea that the Blue Devils “were starting to get better,” Graybill said.
Graybill noted that another Big Nine triumph — at the expense of Richland — “was a nice feather in our cap.”
The Blue Devils did not win the league or district title, “but we kept the faith,” Graybill said. “We wanted to be playing our best volleyball in late October and early November.”
A district victory over Ike punched the Blue Devils’ ticket to state. They upended Marysville-Pilchuck, Auburn, Cascade-Everett, and Bellarmine Prep to commence state, but lost to Lewis & Clark and Puyallup. The state experience ended with another vanquishing of Bellarmine Prep.
“We took pride in that,” Graybill said. “It was not always about winning. Our No. 1 goal was to have fun; No. 2 was to earn the respect of our opponents; and No. 3 was to achieve excellence in the game of volleyball.”
Wa-Hi, following a fourth-place showing in league and an admirable district finish, hosted the 1999 regional tournament — one season after saying ‘good bye’ to senior stars Carolyn Mires and Audra Pearce. Sophomore Gwen Davis enjoyed a “coming-out party” versus Ferris, Graybill said.
“She enveloped their best player and others played well,” Graybill said. “Nicky Ruiz and Christy Brewer did a fantastic job of getting us ready and being enthusiastic. Allison Billingsley was a great athlete and inspiration. It was an exciting win for us.”
Wa-Hi was “the dominant team” in the Big 9 in 2002, but “had to battle and scrap for everything,” Graybill said.
League MVP and all-state selection Jamie Eggers, and “great athletes” Lindsey Mahan, Hailey Pearce and Whitney Quaresma set the pace, Graybill said.
District play was “close and exciting,” Graybill said. “I remember screaming loudly. Lindsey and Hailey were two of our main offensive threats. They played with confidence because they’d been there before.”
Regional and state tournament action ended sadly for the Blue Devils.
“We felt we didn’t play our best at regionals, but our goal was to get to state,” Graybill said. “We were competitive at state, but couldn’t quite pull it all together. But it was not out of a lack of desire.”
Graybill said he had a “wonderful time” as the head Blue Devil. The aforementioned seasons were part of what was a “fun time.”
“I enjoyed coaching with great kids,” Graybill said. “We had fun, earned the respect of people in the Big 9, and had an excellent volleyball program.”