One is the reigning conference most valuable player: a 6-foot-1 senior who can overtake a match thanks to her superior length and power. The other is a talented sophomore, versatile enough to be successful no matter where she is on the court. Together, Alyssa Duncan and Brooklynn Hayes provide the Tumwater High School volleyball team with one of the 2A Evergreen Conference’s premiere front row 1-2 punches, and are two very big reasons the Thunderbirds have extremely high hopes for this year’s postseason.
That they do, and tops on the list is collecting a trophy at the state tournament for the first time since 2017 when the team won its third state championship.
“We talk about our goals a lot,” Duncan said. “First, we want to get to districts and do well there. I think we have a good chance to do well there, and as soon as we get through districts, I think we will do amazing at state.”
Unlike last year, however, this season will feature a state tournament, which will be held November 19 and 20 at the Yakima Valley SunDome. “The team is just excited to have a state tournament this year,” Stray said. “We haven’t been there for a long time.”
Duncan, the T-Birds dominant middle blocker who was named the EvCo’s MVP during her junior season, will no question be called upon plenty during a potentially long Tumwater postseason run. The team captain, however, prepared for such a role by improving her skill set immensely by playing club volleyball for the first time ever this offseason.
“She was MVP last year without ever playing club before. I think that shows just how athletic she is,” Stray said. “She really had the opportunity to grow in other ways, which was really valuable for her. It really helped improve her overall awareness of the sport.”
Duncan, who was a member of Oly Reign, had good reason to never take up club volleyball before this past year. She was busy with another sport.
“I was always training for track during that season, but then I just decided why not play both sports at the same time?” Duncan said. “I just decided to do it and I am so glad I did. It helped so much. I have learned so much, just not on offense but also on defense. It also helped boast my confidence so much this year.”
While Duncan spent the off-season fine-tuning a position she has always played, Hayes was making the adjustment from the back to the front row, transitioning from the team’s libero to outside hitter.
“We needed her in that front row and she stepped up despite being moved to a different position,” Stray said. “She’s done an amazing job. She has figured out how to own her new role and she’s still a fantastic passer.”
It marked the third straight year Hayes was asked to change positions as she moved from defensive specialist as an eighth grader to libero last year. Despite all the moves, Hayes has excelled regardless of where she lines up as evident by her becoming the first Tumwater freshman since all-time great Kennedy Croft to earn first-time all-conference honors last season.
“It’s completely different from playing the back row,” said Hayes about her new position, “but it’s been so much fun playing with Alyssa. I’ve learned so much and it’s just fun to watch her play.”
“She’s amazing,” Duncan said about Hayes. “I know when I was a freshman it was insane coming into this program. This school is huge, these girls are amazing, and she came right in and has brought such an amazing and positive energy to this team. I love it. She’s so good and can play any spot.”
One other aspect both head coaches stated was a major key to the team’s success this year was the fact the squad had significantly more time to this year to simply get to know each other. “They’ve had more time to be unified and spend time together as people,” Giudice said. “They got to know each other on a personal level which then translates to the court.”
Duncan is one of five seniors on the team this year. She is joined by Sydney Hanson, Natalie Sumrok, Cassandra Gilson and Kira Turcotte. The roster also features four juniors in Zoe Giuntoli, Madison Hurley, Isabella Burney and Ella Wyrick, while Hayes is joined on the team by fellow sophomores Emily Robello and Natalie Manning.