Coach Krista Manke desperately needed someone to fill one of the outside hitter positions.
Timberline High School’s volleyball team was a machine in 2013, posting an impressive 21-1 record with the Blazers’ lone setback occurring in the first round of the 3A state tournament to eventual runner-up Holy Names.
The grind of the season, however, was starting to take its toll on Timberline during state play, and Manke, the Blazers’ head coach, needed to rely on her bench in order to provide some much needed rest for her starters.
Manke’s search ended when she locked eyes on Julianna Salanoa, one of just two freshmen to play varsity for the Blazers that season.
“We had some pretty big hitters on that team,” Manke said. “I went up to Julianna and said, ‘I need you to play outside.’ Her eyes were big. She was just overwhelmed. She was a middle and had never played outside before. We joke about it now, but it was the one time I’ve ever been told no by a player and it was by a freshman.”
Since then Salanoa has been the one causing the intimidation.
“There’s never been a no after that,” Manke said. “She’s been fearless since her sophomore year.”
North Thurston coach Jackie Meyer has labeled the inaugural season of the 3A South Sound Conference the “year of the middles” as the newly formed league features some of the best hitters in the state.
Topping that list is the 5-foot-11 Salanoa, who has guided her young Blazers’ team to second place in the ultra-deep 3A SSC.
A season after being selected 4A Narrows League first-team all-league, Salanoa, a New Mexico State commit, has the Blazers eyeing their first trip to the state tournament since her freshman season.
Should that occur don’t expect the same passive player to take the court this time around as Salanoa has been one of the area’s most dominating players in her senior year.
“She’s someone a lot of people look up to,” Manke said. “She’s great with grades. She’s very positive, does a lot in the community. She’s just one of these uplifting people. You don’t see her down a lot.”
Volleyball was actually foreign to Salanoa prior to middle school. Track and basketball had been her pastimes of choice for several years. She even made varsity her freshman year in basketball, helping the Blazers advance to the district tournament.
“It was crazy handling everything,” Salanoa said about being a multi-sport athlete. “I think, for me. I lost my interest in basketball. I just wasn’t having fun anymore and volleyball was something I fell in love with. I wanted to focus all my energy on becoming better at volleyball than splitting my time between two sports.”
It was during her junior year where New Mexico State entered the scene.
Initially being recruited by the University of Arizona, Salanoa was destined for the desert.
“I had been talking to Arizona for a while, then the head coach there actually pointed me to New Mexico because they decided to go a different way,” Salanoa said. “I took a couple visits to some different schools, but I knew New Mexico State was the right place for me to be. Everything was really appealing, the coaches, the atmosphere. I really liked it down there. It’s totally different. I’ve lived here my whole life. I’m happy I’m going to be trying something new, something different for the next four years.”
Another positive feature about attending New Mexico State, which was the pre-season favorite this year to win the Western Athletic Conference and currently sit atop the conference standings, is the fact the Aggies will play at fellow WAC member Seattle University once a year, giving Salanoa’s family and friends an opportunity to see her play in her home state.
“We plan on going up there and cheering her on,” Manke said. “She’s going to go (to New Mexico State) and be the same Julianna we have had around here for four years and they will realize they really got something special with her.”
Before that happens, Salanoa and the Blazers have plenty of volleyball left. The Narrows League tournament will be held at the end of the month, followed by the district tournament in early November with the top finishers advancing to state.
“This program is known for playing with heart and I think that shows a lot in our games,” Salanoa said. “We’re just going to continue to push each other. I think we have a lot of potential to do some great things if we just continue to work hard. This program has meant so much to me. The coaches and players here have definitely made me a much more confident player. I’ve seen myself go from being on the bench my freshman year to being a leader throughout my junior and senior years. The coaches always show how much they care about each player individually. I think on senior night it’s really going to hit me that this is my last season. The people here have just been incredible.”