Serving up volleyball league play
As they head into league play, all three area high school volleyball teams have now taken to the court against some stiff competition with their nonleague slates in hopes getting themselves geared up for a conference championship run.
Nevada Union’s recent schedule reads like a list of “Who’s Who” in Sac-Joaquin Section volleyball.
The Miners, who are off to a 14-4 start, have defeated defending section champions in Oak Ridge (Division I) and Christian Brothers (Division IV) and fell in four games to D-II champ St. Francis Tuesday night.
NU co-head coaches Bob Rogers and Larry Peterson will use those matchups, as well as the top flight competition they face in the Davis Fall Classic and High Sierra Invitational to see where their team stacks up.
“I think we’re off to a nice start and we’re improving really fast,” Peterson said. “Some things we’re doing very well and some things not very well, but they’re working so hard that we’re improving very fast.”
The Miners have many regulars returning from their 2009 section runner-up team, which fell to Oak Ridge in the Division I final at UC Davis. But two of their top hitters did not return, as Abbie Miraldi graduated and Ellie Selleck decided to not to play with NU in order to focus on working with her club team.
But plenty of prospects were standing in line to fill the voids. More than 70 players, including 40 freshmen, tried out for the program among the varsity, junior varsity and freshman levels.
Peterson said NU’s track record of success, which included seven straight Division I section championships until last season’s second-place finish, has helped drive such interest in playing for the program.
“It has a lot to do with it,” Peterson said. “It’s kind of like with our football team, where the little guys just can’t wait to be a part of it.”
Sixteen freshmen remain in the program, including three with the junior varsity and one on the varsity roster in 6-foot, 2-inch middle hitter Hannah Bryant. Standing alongside 6-0 junior middle Jenna Britton and 5-10 senior Marnie McDowell, Bryant helps form a formidable front line at the net.
Senior Tessa Butterfield is joined by classmate Victoria Kuhn, a defensive specialist, along with juniors Jenna Bell and Madison Heppe, at setter and defensive specialist, respectively, as 2009 regulars who are back in action this fall.
All of the above were part of a postseason run that had the Miners on the road for all four rounds of the section playoffs, with trips to Lodi, Modesto, Napa and UC Davis. It was a tough stretch considering the level of expectations they faced as the seven-time defending D-I champions.
“There was a lot of pressure,” McDowell said. “But I think it also helps you play better, because there something you have to live up to.”
“I think this year we’re just having fun,” Butterfield added, noting the championship streak is no longer a focus. “We’ve got some young girls, but we do still want to keep our track record going.”
All in all, Rogers sounds as though the Miners are shaping up for another typical Nevada Union season, which typically has meant a large number in the win column at season’s end.
“We’re good servers and we’ve got a good serve-receive,” he said. “Defensively we’re looking good and improving. Our attack is where we need to get better, but we are.”
NU opens play in the Sierra Foothill League, considered by most to be the top volleyball conference in the section, at home against Granite Bay on Sept. 30.
Matt MacDonald knew things were looking up for his Bruins well before they took to the floor this fall. And now, just three weeks into the season, Bear River’s head coach has had his expectations confirmed – and then some.
A year ago, the Bruins posted a 10-20 record and a fifth-place finish in the Pioneer Valley League.
Heading into this weekend’s Red Bluff Tournament, the Bruins have already surpassed last season’s win total with its 14-3 season record.
“Last year was a tough year,” MacDonald said. “Let’s face it, going 3-9 in league, as a coach you’ve got a lot of sleepless nights. But it makes you change how you do things, how you practice, your beliefs, your philosophies, just to think about how to get better.”
One way to get better is to get more experienced, and the Bruins gained much by just going through last season’s adversity.
But Bear River is also much deeper in the talent pool this time around.
“We’ve got more depth. We were eight deep last year,” MacDonald said. “To compete for a league title, you need to have confidence in the whole roster and get everyone to contribute and give everyone a role.”
Sophomore Sara Schell’s role wasn’t much in question from the get-go. After winning the PVL Most Valuable Player award, her skills and leadership earned her team captain status, alongside senior Christie Nat.
Schell, a 5-11 outside hitter, is among the section leaders in hitting, already totaling 167 kills on the season.
“She’s a leader,” MacDonald said. “She doesn’t play like a sophomore. And she just picked up the sport in seventh and eighth grades. When she started playing for a club team is when she really got into it.”
Nat also has been a key to Bear River’s early success, offering up 41 kills on the right side. Katie Tomkiewicz, a junior outside hitter, ranks second on the team with 101 kills.
Setting things up for the Bruins is sophomore setter Kaya Johnson, while senior Laura Daniels is the team’s starting libero. Competing for time in the middle are juniors Dakota Andrews, Kendal Nielsen, Sabrina Groom and Ahlani Adamson.
“They all bring different things,” MacDonald said. “We’ve got four juniors competing for two spots there, which gives us a ton of depth.”
Looking at the PVL, MacDonald expects rivals Colfax and Placer to be Bear River’s main competition for the PVL title. The Bruins begin their quest for the crown Wednesday, Sept. 29, at Lincoln.
Travis Smith’s 2010 Falcon volleyball team might be short on experience, but FLC is tall on talent up front.
“This is definitely the tallest front line I’ve ever had,” Smith said. “I’ve never had a player get 15 blocks in one match and we’ve got two of them capable of that.”
In a nonleague loss to Placer, 5-10 outside hitter Laura Ritchart racked 15 blocks, while 6-foot middle blocker Emily English had 14 blocks on the same night. And Smith’s size advantage doesn’t stop there, as Amanda Timmerman (6-0) also cuts an imposing figure up front.
“We had 32 blocks on the night (against Placer), 24 in the first game alone,” he said. “But in the next two games we lost focus.
“We’re a very young team as far as experience goes. Being mentally tough is going to be an issue for us.”
Smith does have at least one veteran on which to lean for leadership, as senior setter Molly Huusfeldt is in her third season of varsity volleyball.
“She’s our setter, but she’s also our best server and one of our better hitters and better passers, too,” Smith said. “She our only returning player who saw a lot of action. She’s also the last of the Huusfeldts. I coached all four of them, Braeden, Ashley, Bethany and now Molly. That’s kind of special to me.”
Smith also has junior Stephanie Herron as capable setter and defensive player.
The Falcons opened the season slow, posting a 3-6 record in nonleague action, but faced strong competition against larger schools such as Casa Roble, Lincoln and Placer.
Smith believes those losses paid off as his Falcons took to the court in Central Valley Christian League play on Sept. 16 with a 3-0 sweep of Foresthill. On Tuesday night, FLC moved to 2-0 league play with another 3-0 win, this time over host Delta.
With 2009 CVCL champion Vacaville Christian moving into the Sierra Delta League with the section’s league realignment, Forest Lake Christian could very well be considered a favorite to take the league title in 2010.
“Forest Lake wa the only team to take Vacaville Christian to four games last year,” Smith said. “This year, Woodland Christian is probably our top competition. But, really, the other team you can’t ignore is Foresthill. They’re not much of a volleyball powerhouse, but they’ve got a good coach out there.”
Forest Lake Christian (5-6 overall) travels to Woodland Christian today.
Contact Sports Editor Brian Hamilton via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 477-4240.
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The Little League District 11 postseason is off to a hot start.