For the first time since Donja Walker became head coach of the Federal Way High School volleyball team in 2009, she will be able to fill three complete teams this season.
Getting to this point has been a steady journey for Walker, who is also a special education teacher in the district, but she is pleased her hard work of establishing a culture of volleyball in Federal Way is gaining traction.
Much of her efforts have taken place off the court, however, rather than on it.
“I’ve been doing a lot of stuff outside of our season,” Walker said.
After seeing children had few opportunities to become introduced to the sport until seventh grade in Federal Way, Walker organized a summer youth camp, hosted by the volleyball team. The camp also features a special night, where all the campers got to watch the Eagles play against other schools.
She has also partnered with the Federal Way Community Center to start an instructional league for sixth-graders and younger. Recognizing that club ball was too expensive for many Federal Way families, she also established Intensity Sports Club four years ago, which was an affordable option for youth interested in the sport. When interest outgrew her ability to manage it all, it merged with the Puget Sound Volleyball Academy but retained the same prices to keep it affordable to players.
“I just wanted to give my players a way to play,” Walker said.
Still, when volleyball team tryouts started this week, Walker said she was surprised. Not only was the number of girls greater than in previous years, the group also included 16 freshmen. Should all of them stay with the program through high school, in four years, Walker could be coaching 16 seniors, an exciting possibility.
Walker is not looking that far ahead, however. That 45 girls turned out the first day of practice this week, up from the typical 20-25 of past years, and the fact she can put together three full teams, is exciting enough.
“It’ll help us be more competitive,” she said. “It will create competition in practice because your spot is not guaranteed.”
Her team staying competitive throughout the entire season is Walker’s goal. Her girls, however, want more. After reaching the postseason for the first time in many years last year, Walker said they have already set a return trip in their sights.
“I think the girls have really high expectations of themselves,” she said.
While that is not a bad thing, Walker said the team has many practices and many games before the postseason, and she wants them to focus on one goal at a time. She also wants them to celebrate their achievements, big and small, along the way.
“When you do something well, you need to take a minute to celebrate,” Walker said.