The Tri-Cities Prep volleyball program has been around for 15 years, but only in the last four has it really taken off.
There has been one constant on the Jaguars’ varsity those four years, and she is a big reason why the team is heading to its first state tournament Friday in Yakima.
What Mary Hoppes lacks in size, she makes up for with athletic ability, a big vertical leap and plain old-fashioned hard work.The 5-foot-11 outside hitter and her Tri-Cities Prep teammates will face La Conner at 8 a.m. Friday at the SunDome in Yakima in the first round of the Class 2B state tournament.
“It seems dramatic, but literally that is what you dream of (going to state),” Hoppes said. “To finally get that is just this feeling I can hardly describe. I was so happy I could barely contain my excitement.”
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Hoppes’ freshman year was the same fall that head coach Marcie Brown took over. The new coach and her protégé have helped change the fortunes of the program ever since.
“We started off a little shaky when I was a freshman. It was kind of a start over for the program,” Hoppes said. “The commitment of our team has gotten a lot better. The majority of our team plays club volleyball, and it has just gotten a lot better because everyone is more into it.”
Hoppes started playing the sport after her mom, Terri, encouraged her to try out in sixth grade. The entire Hoppes family is extremely athletic, including her older brother, Will, who holds numerous state records in football and led Tri-Cities Prep to a state title in 2010, so it made sense for Mary to get involved in sports as well.
Mary’s glad her mom picked volleyball, as she has been a natural fit. She is talking to a few NCAA Division III schools about playing at the next level, including the University of Dallas, Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, and Whitworth University in Spokane.
“She is a quiet leader,” Brown said. “Not real verbal, more lead by example. She works hard in the gym, is always on time and just a great kid.”
Brown asked Hoppes to switch positions before the start of her senior season, moving from middle blocker to outside hitter. The transition was made easier because she plays outside in club, but it still was difficult to get used to with her high school squad.
But she didn’t complain and her teammates took notice.
“She is a really good leader,” Tri-Cities Prep co-captain Danika Whitsett said. “She encourages everyone really good, and she is just a really good player. She is the best player on the team.”
Despite playing in the state’s second smallest classification, Hoppes has proven over the years that she belongs on the same court with the best the Tri-Cities has to offer.
“She was one of those kids that can fit into any role you give her,” said Bob Raidl, the Richland High head coach who coached Hoppes in club last summer. “We didn’t have the strongest club team, but we improved every tournament and she was one of the reasons.
“She is a good athlete. A good jumper, hits the ball hard. She is a star on her team, and a good player on ours.”
This weekend, perhaps she’ll be the star of another team — the all-state tournament team.