Crusaders set lofty goals

Gianni Perryman has an agenda.

The senior setter is forthright when it comes to her outlook on the remainder of the Faith Lutheran girls volleyball season.

“We plan to kick butt and take names,” Perryman said. “We want to win all of our games in conference, and eventually our end goal is to make it to state and win.”

Perryman’s unwavering attitude and lofty objectives could be misconstrued as brash or abundantly obvious to some. After all, similar aims are shared by perhaps every high school volleyball player in the state.

Perryman and Co., though, are not simply coveting an unrealistic goal. They are determined to parlay a senior-laden squad into a state championship.

“This is a team that we haven’t had in a while,” Perryman said. “We work really hard. We all get along, and we have a lot of chemistry on the court.”

Glancing up at the maroon and gold banners hanging from the wall of Faith Lutheran’s gymnasium, it is evident that success is nothing new to the program. The Crusaders (16-5, 1-0 Division I-A Sunset) have earned 12 straight playoff berths — a run that coach Amy Fisher said is a testament to the tradition of the community.

Faith Lutheran, which went 22-10 last season, is led by six seniors: middle hitters Taylor Hammer and Sam Leonard, outside hitters Taylor Richards, Lindsey Flangas and Devynn Mills, and Perryman.

“The kids know what to expect,” Fisher said. “They know what we’re doing. We haven’t changed a lot on them in the last three years. They come in ready to go, ready to work hard.”

The Crusaders lost only one starter from last season’s team that finished second in the Class 4A Northwest League. However, it was arguably their best player — setter Kelsey McCourt, an all-league selection.

“Kelsey was really good at moving the ball around the court,” Perryman said. “She has great hands, obviously. Watching her and playing with her really improved my own game. I got to observe her whole technique and tactics. It’s helped my team a lot this year.”

Perryman, who has played several positions for Faith Lutheran, has embraced her role as setter.

“It’s fun,” she said. “You kind of get to run the team. Everyone calls it the quarterback of volleyball. You’re in control of (the game). It’s fun to see the choices you make and the little things you see work, play out and get you some points.”

Along with a transitional period on the court and a divisional realignment, Faith Lutheran continues to mourn an off-the-court tragedy. Christina Portaro, a junior on last year’s team, died Sept. 3, 2011, in an all-terrain vehicle accident in Utah.

“This team has been through a lot together,” said Fisher, who is in her seventh season coaching the Crusaders. “When kids go through an experience like that, this is now just a game. This isn’t life. It was such an unfortunate loss. We miss Christina, but it also made these kids very resilient in the fact that they can go through anything and make it through.”

Leonard said that this season is about working together and representing the memory of Portaro.

“It’s not an individual (effort),” Leonard said. “We want to do good for each other. We want to do good for Christina. We want to win state. It’s our last year, especially with the six of us. Together is how we’re going to get it.”

Faith Lutheran, which has nine league matches remaining, will use the Nike Tournament of Champions at the end of the regular season to prepare for a playoff run.

“Every game is an opportunity for us to continue to hone our skills,” Fisher said. “To get better at passing, to improve on our serving percentage, to earn every point that we can and not so much rely upon the errors of the other team. Every game, every match is a step for us.”

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