It’s Picture Day for the Prairie High School volleyball team. Everyone looks their best for the shots to be taken for the programs handed out at each home match.

Now, it’s Zoe McBride’s turn, and the Falcons senior who led the Falcons to the 3A Greater St. Helens League title and a seventh-place finish at state, earning her All-Region Player of the Year honors, gets asked to spike a ball against an empty court.

Shouldn’t be a problem, you figure. After all, McBride pounded a team-high 508 kills a season ago.

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Prairie outside hitter Zoe McBride hopes to top 600 kills and 400 digs in her senior season. Photo credit: Rene Ferran

Wait, that take wasn’t quite right. Could she do it again? How about once more?

She endures her moment before the camera with her seeming ever-present smile, then comes over.

“It’s awkward is what it is,” McBride said. “They want it a certain way, and if it’s not perfect, they want you to do it again.”

If there’s one thing McBride can do, it’s come up with the perfect spike, even if it’s not a perfect pass setting her up.

“It’s not that she takes the pressure off,” said junior setter Lainne Wilkins, “but you know you always have her as a bailout. I treasure all my hitters, but some hitters have a small window where they want the ball, and they’ll tip it if it’s not a perfect set. Zoe has a big window.”

The window didn’t open until McBride was in middle school.

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Zoe McBride (8) and Abby Brotherton combine on a block in Prairie’s win at Skyview. Photo credit: Rene Ferran

“Every sport you could put a little kid into, I did. I was super active,” she recalled. “My dad (Tim, a two-time football letter-winner at Portland State) would take me into the back yard and play football and soccer with me.”

She stayed with soccer until a severe concussion ended her career before high school, sending her in search of another sport.

She tried softball. “Too slow,” she concluded.

She tried basketball, which considering Prairie’s storied program and that McBride stood almost 5-foot-11 by eighth grade, seemed like a perfect fit.

“I had the height for it, but I just didn’t like it,” she said. “It wasn’t for me.”

Finally, she tried volleyball, and from the start, she was hooked.

“I just loved the atmosphere,” she said. “I like the family part of it. On the court, it’s all about the team. If one person messes up, it can all fall apart.”

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Zoe McBride made a successful transition to outside hitter during the 2016-17 club season with Athena Volleyball Academy. Photo courtesy: Fran McBride

McBride always was a strong front-row player, but after a disappointing sophomore season that ended with a winless trip to state, she decided to make a radical change during the club season with Athena Volleyball Academy. She moved from middle blocker, where she’d played most of her career, to outside hitter and worked to round out her game.

“I know if I want to play in college, there will be girls who are a lot taller than me,” said McBride, who stands just a hair under 6 feet. “I knew I had to work on my defense so I could play all the way around.”

She returned for her junior year a different player. Besides her team-leading kill total, she also amassed 313 digs and 40 blocks.

“It took me a long time to be able to pass well,” she said. “It just took a lot of reps in the back row, and I started playing beach, which really helped my ball control.”

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Zoe McBride had 13 kills, 20 digs, and seven aces in Prairie’s season-opening sweep of Skyview. Photo credit: Rene Ferran

Last season also ended on a much more positive note for the Falcons, who bounced back from back-to-back, five-set nonleague losses to Camas and Battle Ground to roll through league and district play without dropping a set.

They swept past Shelton in their first match at bi-districts, then lost to Timberline in the quarterfinals. With their season on the line, they won three straight loser-out matches to claim the final state berth, keeping a streak of six straight state appearances alive.

Their reward? A matchup with eventual state champion Lakeside of Seattle, which they pushed to four sets before losing their first-round match.

“We didn’t roll over,” McBride said with pride.

The Falcons came back to win their final three matches, sweeping Shorewood, Holy Names, and Ferndale in the consolation bracket.

“My sophomore year, we were a good team, but we didn’t work well together,” McBride said. “Last year, we didn’t finish as well as I wished we would, but we had perseverance. We all wanted it, but not selfishly. We wanted to win for our teammates. We came together and decided we were not going to lose.”

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When Zoe McBride heard of her new coach, she snuck into gyms during club tournaments to watch Jen Palmer in action. Photo credit: Rene Ferran

Nine players return from last year’s seventh-place finishers, although the Falcons have their third coach in three years—Jen Palmer took over for Andrea Doerfler in the spring so Doerfler could better follow her daughter Tessa’s career at Hawaii Pacific University.

McBride admitted to sneaking into tournaments during the club season to watch her new coach at work after hearing of Palmer’s hiring. “She looked like she knew what she was doing,” McBride said. “Then, I Googled her.”

Palmer didn’t sneak around to watch McBride play, but after getting her first look during summer training, she came away impressed with both her athleticism and her work ethic.

Palmer recalled a sequence from an early practice. “Zoe was playing middle back, and I tossed a ball by the 5-foot line, and I’m thinking that wasn’t very good,” she said. “I was about to say, ‘My error,’ when she hit it, no problem. My mouth kind of dropped on that.”

What Palmer loves more, though, is that “you get these big star hitters, and yeah, they have a big vertical and can bang the ball, but they don’t excel in the back row. Zoe does both well.”

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With Jen Palmer at the helm, the Prairie volleyball team looks to repeat as 3A Greater St. Helen’s League champions and improve upon a seventh-place finish at state. Photo credit: Rene Ferran

McBride set some lofty goals for her senior season. Besides winning another league title, she’s hoping the Falcons can parlay a better finish at bi-districts into a better state draw, ultimately leading to perhaps the program’s first title since 2012.

She’s also looking to crack 600 kills and 400 digs—and got off to a good start with 13 kills, 20 digs, and seven aces in the Falcons’ 25-17, 25-15, 25-21 win over Skyview in their opening match.

McBride sees those totals as “a visual representation of being better” as well as numbers that should draw the attention of college coaches.

She took a visit to Oregon State in May, and while she liked the campus and the pharmacy program—and her mother, Fran, loves that it’s a two hour drive from home—McBride has her sights set on faraway locales.

“I love my family, but I want to go away and force myself to be independent,” said McBride, who has also heard from Hawaii Pacific, UCSB, Stony Brook, Florida Atlantic, and Montana State.

“I don’t know yet where I want to live or what I want to do. Knowing me, I’ll procrastinate and overthink it. But I know I don’t want to make a mistake and pick the wrong school. I want to make a good decision for me.”


Zoe McBride’s Favorite Things

TV show: The Office
I just love that show. It’s so funny. I watched it when I was younger with my sister when I probably shouldn’t have watched it. 

Movie: Zootopia
I love watching movies with my nephew. I like comedies, and I’ll just go out on Netflix and find one to watch. 

Book: Harry Potter series
My mom would read it to me when I was little. I like the whole adventure thing.

Food: Pizza
Or chicken strips, or chicken and waffles, mac and cheese, pastas—just carbs in general. I will eat toast all the time.

School subject: English
I’m pretty good at it, and I like writing. It’s interesting to me how the English language is set up.

Cereal: Lucky Charms
My mom used to make me eat oatmeal every day, but all my friends would eat all these sugary cereals, and I was like, ‘Why can’t I eat that?’

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