Sports Zone, Springfield

All set up: Colts challenging for league crown

PIERRE WEIL / CHRONICLE PHOTO. Thurston’s Emily Buller (1) sets the ball in the team’s sweep over rival Springfield last week. Buller, a senior, had 36 assists in the victory.

SPRINGFIELD – The Thurston Colts volleyball team swept rival Springfield last Tuesday, moving to 12-4 on the season and 6-0 in the first half of Midwestern League play. The Colts, ranked No. 4 in Class 5A, have a veteran team that includes eight seniors, with all six starters being seniors. That experience leads to a confident team every time Thurston steps on the court.

“What I really like about the team that we have is the solidarity that they play with, and the belief they have in themselves,” coach David Natt said after the Springfield win. “Watching them do their thing on the volleyball court when they’re in a groove like tonight, it’s magic. And they do it together.”

Thurston hit its groove in set two of the win over Springfield, controlling the set 25-9 behind stellar setting from senior Emily Buller, who finished the match with 36 assists.

“(Emily) distributed the ball really well. Couldn’t ask for more. I mean, it’s a great night for her because she’s getting passes that are right in her lap, so it was a perfect night for her.” Natt said. “Our outside hitters in that middle-back were putting those balls up for Emily, which just opens the entire offense up to her. And she just made stellar decisions tonight, just really great stuff.” 

Part of what makes Thurston so dangerous is Buller’s passing ability, but also the options Buller has on the outside. Against Springfield, four different outside hitters had at least 7 kills: Julia Cook (12 kills), Scout Martin (9), Savannah Esfeaff (9), and Bailey Tovey (7).

“It’s nice knowing that I can set whoever and trust that they’re gonna get it over and get a kill. They’ll do their best work with the ball. I know I don’t have to be perfect, and they can adjust my set and still get a kill,” Buller said. “If I’m running halfway in the stands, and I throw one up, they get a kill. I don’t have to worry about being perfect at all because they’re just amazing.”

Thurston’s Savannah Efseaff spikes the ball in the win over Springfield last week.

Teams have struggled to stop the Colts offense this season, with the depth and consistency of the outside hitters being a large part of that.

“They just run a really, really clean offense. Emily can run them in the gaps, she can run them on the pins, they just know where they’re supposed to be,” Natt said. “They communicate really well. And the result is, when we pass the ball and all three hitters are in play, it’s pretty hard to stop.”

Thurston has utitilized it’s experienced roster to grab three top-10 wins in Class 5A matches and two wins over Class 6A opponents. One of those wins was a 3-2 thriller over then No. 1 Crater – Thurston’s main competition for the Midwestern League title.

“Everybody knows on our team that our focus is winning league, because then they can come back into that gym when they’re 35 years old, and their senior year is going to be up in that gym forever,” Natt said. “That’s what matters right now, is to leave that legacy because they’re doing so well. And that’s what they focus on, that’s what they put their efforts toward. They’re very focused on achieving that and not looking beyond that. And we do it point by point, it doesn’t matter who our opponent is.”

Thurston’s been to the postseason every year since 2018 – except Natt’s first year at the helm in the 2020 season, which had no playoffs due to the pandemic – so it’s “nothing new to Thurston to be in the playoffs.”

Julia Cook (6) rises up to spike the ball in Thurston’s sweep. Cook led the team with 12 kills in the match.

What is new is the experience on this team. Natt said how much he appreciates the seniority on the team. For Buller, it makes everything easier on the court.

“Our team chemistry has been just amazing this year. We’ve had lots of sweeps and lots of wins this year,” Buller said. “Our team chemistry is just insane. All six seniors on the court, we’ve been playing together since middle school probably. We know each other; we know what works with each other, and it’s just been great since the beginning. I can’t nitpick as a setter, anything we do, because it’s just been phenomenal from the day tryouts happened.”

Thurston has failed to make it past the first round each of the past two seasons under Natt. Despite the team’s goals focused on league play, a solid finish could give Thurston something it hasn’t had the past couple seasons – a home playoff game.

“We’re really fighting to get a home-court advantage for the first round. We still got the second half of league to go. And there’s a lot of work left for us,” Natt said. “We got a couple of tough road games, we got Crater on the road, we got Churchill on the road. … It’s not over yet. We got work to do. There’s wood to be chopped.”

Thurston top performers: Bailey Tovey, 7 kills, 15 digs, 3 aces; Scout Martin, 9 kills, 14 digs; Julia Cook, 12 kills, 18 digs, 4 aces; Savannah Efseaff, 9 kills, 6 digs, 6 aces; Emily Buller, 4 kills, 36 assists, 6 digs.



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