Auburn Riverside captures state 3A title | Prep volleyball

Top-ranked Auburn Riverside capped a dream season on Saturday, sweeping No. 3 Capital to secure the volleyball program's first state 3A title.

The Auburn Riverside volleyball team’s journey to the state 3A title actually began last year.

Although the season culminated with the undefeated Ravens’ 3-0 sweep – 25-16, 25-23 and 25-20 – of Capital (30-4) in the championship match this past Saturday at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, its genesis was in November 2013, when the team failed to move out of the district tourney, losing 3-1 to Rogers of Puyallup.

“We fixed what didn’t happen last year, when we were at Kentwood and didn’t qualify (for the state tourney) and we should have,” coach Chris Leverenz said. “We kept reliving that moment after it was over and trying to figure out what we did wrong. We gave up on ourselves, and we decided we would never give up on ourselves again.”

And they didn’t.

Playing with the onus of being the top-ranked 3A volleyball team in the state from the get-go, Auburn Riverside cut a swath through the competition this season racking up a 36-0 record, winning the South Puget Sound League title outright and capturing the competitive Linda Sheridan Classic in Spokane.

At the state tourney, the Ravens brushed aside the competition, beating Seattle Prep (25-13, 25-17, 25-11), Mercer Island (25-27, 27-25, 25-14, 25-17), second-ranked Columbia River (25-20, 25-23, 25-18) and No. 3 Capital in the title game.

In that title match, senior setter Carson Heilborn set the pace for Auburn Riverside with 33 assists and senior Precious Atafua added 16 kills and 16 digs in the match.

Atafua and Heilborn were nominated for the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award, with Atafua winning the honor and Heilborn being named to the all-tourney team as a setter.

After the game Leverenz reflected on the season and the championship, her first.

“Surreal, is that a good word?” Leverenz asked. “You kind of walk yourself through it beforehand. ‘What if I win the state championship, what’s it going to feel like?’ Then when it’s 23-20, and our crowd starts chanting, I’m like, ‘Oh no, not yet, not yet.’ Then we get to 24 (match point) and my heart dropped, in a good way, and the emotions came out.”

For senior hitter Roxy King, it was all about the joy.

“It feels amazing. We’ve been working so hard for this all season long,” she said. “It’s an amazing feeling to finally win it all.”

“I know I’ll never again in my life have a team that is like this, physically, emotionally, mentally and the chemistry,” Leverenz said.

“I’m going to remember Precious and how much she’s matured and gone from a kid I could barely count on to be at practice to a kid who leads the team. Who would have ever thought?” Leverenz said. “I’ll remember Carson Heilborn, who came in as a freshman and said she didn’t want to lead, that she wasn’t a big talker. And then we got to watch her grow. That’s why I coach, and that’s why I teach.”