Updated Friday, November 9, 2012 at 03:54 PM
MILL CREEK — Haley MacDonald traded martial arts for the art of setting.
She left the dojang for a gymnasium, gave up her second-degree black belt in taekwondo to help teammates belt volleyballs.
And she approached the new sport with the same passion as the old, molding herself into one of the best setters in the state.
"Haley's worked really hard at the game," Jackson coach Ashley Allen said. "I don't know if it's always come really easily to her. She's definitely got a good build for a setter. She's tall (6 feet), left-handed. But she's put in a lot of time outside of her team practices and worked hard to study the game. She puts in a lot of effort to get better."
This weekend, MacDonald, a senior, hopes that hard work pays off with a second Class 4A state championship. The second-ranked Timberwolves (26-3), who won the title in 2010 and placed fourth last season, are among the favorites in the 16-team field at Saint Martin's University in Lacey.
As a youngster, taekwondo was a natural choice for MacDonald as her father was an instructor.
"That was my life," she said.
But then around age 10, close friends encouraged her to try out for volleyball, and life changed. She became consumed with setting — a natural position for her physically and mentally.
"I just loved the leadership part of it on the floor," MacDonald said, "and being able to touch one out of every three balls."
And being good wasn't good enough. She wanted to be great.
"I think I've always been like that, always pushing myself," she said. "I think of every single ball as an opportunity to make myself better."
She became Jackson's starting setter as a freshman and helped the team finish eighth in the state for the school's first volleyball trophy. Allen arrived as head coach the following season, and the Timberwolves ultimately took the top prize.
MacDonald committed to Washington State University that summer and envisioned two more state titles for Jackson.
But the T-Wolves lost to Olympia in the semifinals last year and again to Curtis in the consolation final. MacDonald admits the team came in a little overconfident and forgot how difficult the tournament can be.
"This year we're definitely humbled and we know what to expect," she said. "Coming in fourth last year was kind of a wake-up call."
MacDonald and the other seven seniors on the team are determined to get it right again this weekend.
"We really want to leave a legacy," she said.
MARK HARRISON / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Haley MacDonald has started all four years.