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Head & shoulders … above the competition

It wasn’t always like this for the Nevada Union volleyball team. The Miners didn’t always take to the court as the favorite to end up in the win column each night.

But after three-straight league championships, back-to-back Sac-Joaquin Section titles and the program’s first Northern California Championship crown, the Miners have made themselves look like the big, bad bullies on the block.

No team in the Metro Conference has pushed the Miners beyond three games, much less beaten the two-time champs. But that doesn’t mean NU gets a free pass while staying unscathed in conference play.



“Teams just go crazy playing us, it seems,” said NU head coach Bob Rogers. “It seems like we get other teams best efforts when they play us. It seems like they think ‘if we can beat those guys, our season’s a success.'”

But Nevada Union expects to be much more than the best measuring stick for teams to see how they stack up. The Miners want to move forward and improve on their 2003 campaign, which ended as the best in school history.




This year, though, the Miners hope to place a “W” next to that final match, set as Dec. 4 on Nevada Union’s season schedule.

“Our goal,” Rogers said. ” is to get in that state championship and win it.”

To help prepare the Miners for that postseason path, Rogers has scheduled a strong nonconference slate, which includes multiple tournaments – like the 36-team Reno Tournament NU won last weekend.

“It’s pretty difficult (to get the team excited about league games) with so many teams in our league that aren’t anywhere near our level,” Rogers said. “But we do play in these tournaments that have some of the strongest teams around.”

A scary thought for opponents is that last year’s strongest team in Northern California may end up being even better this time around. Of course, NU had to replace five seniors, including middle hitter Elena Schmidt, who provided heavy hitting alongside then-junior Ali Daley, one of the top seniors in the country this season.

So far Daley has provided all the pop NU has needed up front, recording 36 kills in a win over Div-IV NorCal champ Golden Sierra on Sept. 7 and taking the Most Valuable Player award at the Reno Tournament last weekend.

Along with Daley, the Miners also welcome back seniors Amanda Benson, Whitney Nunnink, Julie Wivholm and Amy Weeks, as well as juniors Stephanie Bayne, Alicia Landon, Claire Tovar and Nicole Williams.

“Statistically, I think we’re a better team on serve and receive, but we’re still trying to become stronger on attacking,” Rogers said. “But so far the team, I think we’re ahead of where I thought we’d be at this point, if you’d asked me at the beginning.”

If NU is successful in returning to the state championship this season, Rogers said the Miners will most likely be playing their toughest opponent of the year in such a season finale.

“It seems like Northern California sends back the same teams over and over again, but not in Southern California,” he said. “You just don’t see that as much in Southern California, because there are a lot of great teams playing each other and knocking each other off.

“Last year’s state champ (Los Alamitos), if you remember, didn’t even win their section. That’s how strong it is in Southern California.”

Bear River

The Bruins returning to Bear River’s varsity volleyball team this fall found a new – albeit familiar – face at the helm of the program, as former assistant coach Brandon Walter was promoted to head coach with the resignation of former Bruin coach Keith Hart.

“It’s helped that the girls know me,” said Walter of his first head coaching position. “They know how I run things and that’s made it a lot easier.”

The 22-year-old Walter said becoming a head coach has been high on list of things to do ever since his first coaching gig – which by the way came at age 17, while he was still enrolled at Oakmont High School.

“I played for the boys team, but I started coaching as an assistant for the (girls) varsity when I was a junior and a senior,” he said. “I have a lot of experience, though. Two years ago, when I applied for a couple of jobs I think I didn’t get them because I was too young.”

But now that he is at the helm of a program, Walter is focused on making it a winner. And he wants to do so this season.

Bear River was a winner in 2003, producing a 12-7 record and earning third place in the Pioneer Valley League behind champion Colfax and second-place Oakmont. Walter expects the same three teams to be at the top by the end of the 2004 campaign.

“We will definitely be in contention for league,” Walter said. “We finished second the year before last and third last year. I know a lot of the other schools graduated a lot of players.

“But I think all three had strong junior varsity teams the last few years and those are the ones at the varsity level now.”

Five seniors return to offer Walter an experienced core of players, including Jamie Argento, Anne Heggli, Kim Rafter, Sierra Loveland and Candice Wermes.

If Bear River is to improve on last season’s finish in league – and postseason, where it lost in three games to Roseville – those seniors must help keep the Bruins improving each time they hit the floor, Walter said.

“They’re making progress, but they’re not where I want them to be and not where they feel they should be – yet,” he said.

Forest Lake Christian

April Miraldi had not planned on becoming a volleyball coach, but what else was she going to do with all of the experience she attained in her own playing days?

Miraldi, first-year head coach at Forest Lake Christian, started playing volleyball on the sand of Laguna Beach as a child with her dad, Chuck Johnson – a pro beach player in the 1960s – and was recruited for her first Junior Olympic team shortly thereafter.

She later hit the court at both Pepperdine and UCLA, before ending her career by touring as a player on the Athletes in Action national team.

“I didn’t realize that I would like coaching, but when I did it (at Union Hill Junior High) I got such a kick out of teaching the fundamentals of volleyball to these kids,” said Miraldi, who said she coached several current Nevada Union varsity players while they were in junior high. “It’s a lot of fun to see the kids you have worked with go on and have some real success in the sport.”

Forest Lake Christian found some success on the court under Travis Smith last season, catching fire late in the season to propel the Falcons into the Division V section semifinals, where FLC fell to Turlock Christian. There’s good reason, including the return of two all-Central Valley Christian League honorees, to believe the Falcons can improve on their 15-6 season of 2003.

The Falcons will be led up front by senior Megan Wisniewski, a CVCL first-team selection as a junior, who is FLC top hitter. She’ll be joined by classmates Kristie Donovan and Brittany Gilfillan, along with seniors Jenna Blair, Andrea Lowe and Jenny Foster.

“I’m excited,” said Miraldi. “My goal is to take each match and do the best we can, then ask ‘What can we take from this game?’ and build upon that.”

So far that has meant the Falcons have taken some lumps in the learning process, matching up with teams from larger schools, which Miraldi expects to pay off once FLC (2-3) enters league play.

“I welcome playing the bigger and better schools, because it’s a great opportunity for us to learn and get better,” she said. “Once we get into our division, I think we’ll do really well.”

Nevada Union Miners

Head coach: Bob Rogers

Last season: Went 35-4 on the season, while racking up a third-straight league championship, second-straight Sac-Joaquin Section title and first NorCal championship crown. Lost to state champ Los Alamitos 25-20, 19-25, 25-16, 25-21 in Cypress, near Los Angeles.

Key returners: Ali Daley (12), Amy Weeks (12), Amanda Benson (12), Nicole Williams (11) Whitney Nunnink (12), Stephanie Bayne (11), Julie Wivholm (12), Alicia Landon (11), Claire Tovar (11).

Key newcomers: Sarah Bararia (12), Rebecca Harris (12), Sarah McAtee (9), Katilin McRee (12), Christian Woodruff (9).

Season Outlook: “”Our goal,” Rogers said, ” is to get in that state championship and win it.”

Bear River Bruins

Head coach: Brandon Walter

Last season: Went 12-7 on the season, finishing third in the Pioneer Valley League and losing to Roseville 3-0 in the first round of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.

Key returners: Jamie Argento (12), Anne Heggli (12), Sierra Loveland (12), Kim Rafter (12), Candice Wermes (12), Jessica Agnew (11), Andrea Goodnight (11), Rebecca Zauner (11).

Key newcomers: Lauren Dunning (11), Kristen Dunning (11), Ashley Drew (11), Christina Baker (9).

Season Outlook: “We will definitely be in contention for league,” Walter said.

Forest Lake Christian Falcons

Head coach: April Miraldi

Last season: Went 15-6 on the season, losing to Turlock Christian 3-0 in the Division V Sac-Joaquin Section semifinals.

Key returners: Jenna Blair (12), Kristie Donovan (12), Jenny Foster (12), Brittany Gilfillan (12), Andrea Lowe (12), Megan Wisniewski (12), Lora Courtney (11).

Key newcomers: Torrey Haddad (10), Kylie Miraldi (9).

Season Outlook: “I’m excited,” said Miraldi. “My goal is to take each match and do the best we can, then ask ‘What can we take from this game?’ and build upon that.”


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