Dani Burke was at Toyota Center on Friday watching her alma mater Kamiakin compete in the Class 3A state volleyball tournament.
The 2015 Kamiakin grad admitted she was a little jealous. When she was a senior, the Braves went to state and finished 1-2, but that was at St. Martin’s University in Lacey. She wanted to play at Toyota Center.
Now, as a sophomore at Walla Walla Community College, her goals are a bit loftier.
The Warriors (26-8) won the NWAC East title a week ago with a 14-2 record and go into the NWAC tournament as a strong contender when action gets under way Thursday at the Greater Tacoma Trade and Convention Center.
Walla Walla opens play in the 16-team bracket at 11:30 a.m. against Tacoma (18-14), the No. 4 team from the NWAC West.
“Last year, we went in as the No. 2 seed behind Blue Mountain,” Burke said. “It was nice to beat them and get the top seed. We are excited and getting ready. It’s fun to be a part of it.”
The Warriors finished fifth at the NWAC tournament last year and have high hopes of moving up.
“I’m very pleased with them,” WWCC coach Chelsie Speer said of her team. “The No. 1 reason we are where we are is our sophomore leadership. They made a decision winter term. They bought in and have trained hard. We beat Tacoma at the very beginning of the year in Eugene. We beat them in four, but they were all close.”
Pasco’s Ashlin Orosco also plays for the Warriors, but she tore her ACL midway through the season and has been out of action since. Grandview’s Samantha Grove, a sophomore middle blocker, also is on the Warriors’ roster.
The 5-foot-8 Burke, one of WWCC’s two setters, ranks 12th in the NWAC with 327 assists. She shares time in the Warriors’ 6-2 offense with fellow sophomore Alex Garrison (218 assists)
“Since the end of the offseason, we have been bonding and putting in the effort so we can get the results,” said Burke, who also has 111 digs. “Chelsie’s big thing is giving attitude and effort, and everyone has bought in. We know Chelsie’s program works, and we can pass that on.”
The result showed on the court this season. They split with Blue Mountain and Spokane, but ran the table the rest of the way in the NWAC East.
Part of the Warriors’ success is the versatility of their players.
Burke put her blocking skills on display during the season when she went to the net in a match against Yakima and helped put a little life back into the Warriors’ game.
“In our scary match at Yakima, we decided to go to a 5-1, and Dani blocked two balls in a row,” Speer said. “That changed the momentum of the game.”
Though Columbia Basin College is just across the river from Kennewick, Burke said she wanted a little independence, and that Walla Walla was the right fit for her.
“I wanted a little freedom,” said Burke, who still makes an occasional trip home to see her dogs, Jovi and Griffey. “But I’m close enough that family can come and watch.”
Burke would like to continue to play next season at a four-year school and delve into sports marketing.
“I’m talking to people,” she said.
Speer, in her third year at WWCC, grew up in Pendleton and coached five years at Mt. Hood before taking the top job with the Warriors. She has plans on sticking around, but needs fresh bodies for next year. She was scouting at the state tournament to fill her team’s biggest need for next season.
“I need setters,” she said. “I’m losing two after this season.”
Other local players in action at the NWAC tournament include Jordan Mix (Southridge) for Blue Mountain Community College; Leilani Moody (Southridge) for Community Colleges of Spokane; Rachel Leshikar (Kamiakin) for North Idaho College; Kaylee Hagadorn (Kennewick) for Umpqua Community College.