With volleyball games starting next week, local squads have been hard at work looking to replace graduated talent and see what the up-and-comers have to offer. Several teams have a promising outlook, as we spoke with local coaches to highlight some of the key players.
The Lions graduated several key players, but still have a strong core of talent led by the returning Narrows 4A MVP, junior outside hitter Courtney Schwan.
Schwan is dominant up front, and is supported by a strong senior class of setter Katy DeGroot, defensive specialist/outside hitter Kelsie May and middle hitters Rachel Gill and Katherine Joyce.
Junior Julia Wright will look to lead the defensive effort, and sophomore Reghan Pukis will be a key as an outside hitter. Junior Lakes transfer Emily Newberry will add height as a middle hitter, as both she and sophomore Claire Martin are over 6-foot-3. With Schwan, Joyce and Pukis also at least six feet tall, the Lions will feature plenty of height.
“It’s just a matter of the girls being together, practicing the system we run and knowing where to be at the right time,” said head coach Jody DeGroot. “Right now I can already see we’ll get better every week.”
The Tigers sport a solid returning class, led by senior outside hitter and team captain Tabi Webb. Senior setter Haley Rice and senior libero Helena Stout also return as Stadium looks to offset the graduation of star player Sarah Caylor.
“Overall I think the team’s pretty athletic, pretty aggressive,” said head coach John Dillard. “We’re maybe a little more competitive group as a whole compared to last year.”
Dillard noted Daijana Anderson will be a defensive force, and the development of junior middle blockers McKenna Cady and Olivea McCoy will be a key for the season. Other impact juniors include outside hitter Angela Yun, setter Lauren Schultz and libero Breanna Henley – a transfer from Arizona.
Imposing senior middle blockers Alexis Slater and Tia Briggs will be counted on to lead the Rams, who graduated a few key players but return a fairly experienced group.
“I think that so far the chemistry right off the bat caught my attention,” said head coach Jenna Elliott. “They all play well together…we’re more confident and more aggressive, which is really nice.”
Sojournah Channel, a transfer from Spanaway Lake, will make an impact at outside hitter, while junior Rachel Russel steps into the setter spot. Senior Katie Ecklund will be key to the defensive effort at the libero position, and junior Savana Smith will see significant time as well on the right side.
Junior outside hitter Lyric Jones – a returning first team all-league pick – looks to lead a relatively inexperienced group with an up-and-coming crop of young talent.
“Based off what I’ve seen in tryouts, we are definitely a stronger team than last year, which is very exciting,” said head coach Steve Johnson. “I like the mix of girls I have, there’s a lot of energy and enthusiasm right now.”
Senior Tita Ah-Hee joins Jones as another experienced leader at outside hitter, and Johnson said senior London Hughes has shown great athleticism and court awareness as a setter. Johnson has changed the Abes’ formation because of a lack of height, but added that middle blocker Tamar Brown El has improved greatly and should make an impact.
The Falcons are continuing to get more numbers in their program, and will be paced by senior outside hitters Amber and Breanna Brown.
Head coach Ramon Maddox added that Shelondra Harris will be a huge producer at middle blocker, while sophomore Monica Villanueva should be solid as the setter.
Junior Kylie Thornton returns to man the libero position, while sophomore Naomi King will also be key as a defensive specialist.
“It’s about establishing a good defense and working from there,” said Maddox, adding that the Falcons have eyes on the postseason. “Our goal is to at least make it to sub-district (playoffs) and take it from there.”
The Thunderbirds lost several seniors to graduation, but head coach Terry Lynn Thayer will look to senior outside hitters Rosalia Taula and Briana Pressley to lead the squad.
While Mount Tahoma is young, Thayer mentioned that the work ethic is there, and that players are picking up the system quickly.
Taula will team with talented junior Aliyah Carector – a versatile player – to serve as the team captains.
Thayer noted that the skill level is up across the board, and the Thunderbirds will rely on improved speed and fitness to be competitive in the Narrows 3A this fall.
Following a solid run to the state playoffs last year, the Eagles will look to continue their momentum as they return nearly their entire squad.
Senior outside hitter Grace Bouffiou returns to lead the squad, and rising junior Johnnise Moore is an imposing presence and can play outside hitter or middle blocker. Junior setter Carly Normandeau is another experienced leader, and junior Ashlee Hamilton will see a bigger role as a middle or right side hitter.
The team will flash a solid group of talented youth, led by sophomore libero Kylie Burton and sophomore outside hitter Maddy Long. Head coach Tracy King is also excited about freshmen Kaitlyn Konsmo and Veronica Midgett and expects them to contribute.
After another trip to the district playoffs, the Crusaders will look to all-league middle blocker Natalie Snyder to lead them even further.
Head coach Rusty Carlson noted that Snyder is solid in every facet of the game, and that senior outside hitter Sarah Morris will be counted on for offense.
“We’re right there, we’re knocking at the door to get to the next level,” Carlson said. “We’ve been to district (playoffs) three years in a row, so it’s time to go one more step.”
Junior setter McKenna Neufeld is a great all-around athlete, and junior left side hitter Kathryn Carlson will be key as well. Junior libero Brittany Vandouris should lead the defensive effort, as the Crusaders will emphasize ball control in challenging for the league title.