Michael Miller says it was a girl he met in college 20 years ago who first got him to consider moving from Texas to Washington.
“And in the 90s you had the grunge movement in Seattle with Nirvana and Pearl Jam. So I was like, ‘Heck yeah I’ll move to Seattle,’” he said.
He’s got Curtis High School’s volleyball team rock-and-rolling, too.
In four years, Miller has coached the Vikings to a 4A state championship, a runner-up finish, semifinal appearance and last year the quarterfinals. Curtis didn’t make it to state the year before he took over in 2013.
And this year Curtis is 9-0 and sitting atop a 4A South Puget Sound League that has produced five of the past six state champions.
It has one player taller than 6 feet, instead relying on defense, passing and grind-it-out rallies led by Western Washington University-bound libero and two-time TNT All-Area selection Kasey Woodruff.
Curtis cruised past Mount Si in the title match, 25-12, 25-18, at the Sumner Invitational Tournament on Saturday at Sumner High School after beating Peninsula in the first round and Sumner in the semifinals. Mt. Si beat Mt. Rainier in the other semifinal and Bonney Lake in the first round.
“We may not be the biggest, we may not be the fastest and we don’t hit the hardest, but we play together,” said Miller, wearing a surfer cap. “And that’s huge. We trust each other. We know where each other is on the floor and we execute.”
The Vikings are more focused than a year ago, when they were coming off the school’s first state championship.
Miller had them write their goals on pieces of paper before the season.
“And every single one of us said league champs and district champs and most of us put top four in state,” Curtis’ senior setter Haley Morton said. “We’ve all had the same mentality, same goal since Day One.”
“And because we all have the same goals, that’s why we’ve been so connected and jelling so well,” Woodruff added. “We’ve set a higher standard than last year and we’ve just kind of grown as a team.”
Morton and Woodruff have embodied Curtis’ team identity. They want long rallies, wearing opponents out with endurance, defense and opportunistic attacks and they’ve been two of Curtis’ best players while playing positions that aren’t considered the most glamorous.
“We want long rallies,” Woodruff said. “That’s what we’ve practiced all season is preparing for long rallies and going all out. That’s how we tire teams out and those long rallies are momentum changers.”
Like on Saturday. Curtis was tied with Mount Si at 17-17 in the second set (tournament play is decided in two sets, as opposed to the three set victories needed in season matches) before ending the invitational on an 8-1 run.
“I think I was nine when I played outside hitter and setter,” Morton said. “But I knew I was never going to be a hitter because I was too ...
“Short!” Woodruff interjected. “Me, too!”
Morton is 5-foot-7 and Woodruff is 5-foot-6 (but 5-7 in volleyball shoes, she says).
But Curtis certainly has some rally-ending hitters, too. Seniors Yorke and Rikki Doss are the outsides and sophomore Kayla Skipworth has been a team-leader in kills, too, as Curtis comes off wins over defending 2A state champion Tumwater, a five-set win over Bellarmine Prep and a win last week over defending 4A SPSL champion Puyallup.
Last year, Curtis upset state-favorite West Valley of Yakima in the first round, but then lost in the quarterfinals against Kentwood.
“Normally hitters get a lot of credit for stuff,” Woodruff said. “And I’m OK with that because they are ultimately the ones who have to finish the job. But it’s definitely a team effort we have here.”
Miller was an outside hitter, himself, back when he attended at Denison High School in Texas. He converted from football after he had moved there from a smaller school. He stated playing competitively when he was 16 and then eventually played club volleyball at North Texas University.
One of his teammates asked if he’d be interested in coaching and it stuck. His first gig in Washington was coaching for Holy Names Academy in Seattle.
When he interviewed at Curtis in 2012, he told athletic director Terry Jenks, “I’m here to win a state championship.”
“And he was like, ‘Hey, you know you said that and a lot of coaches want it, but the first year you get second in state and then you won state,’” Miller said.
And this team would like to get back there this year.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677