VB season kicks off

Local volleyball coaches are looking forward to seeing their teams in action this weekend at a non-conference tournament to be held Aug. 26 – 27. The junior varsity games will be played at the Lovell High School gymnasium and the varsity games will be played on the courts at Rocky Mountain High School in Cowley. All teams will play a minimum of four games with pool play on Friday and a double elimination tournament on Saturday Games will begin on Friday at 4 p.m. and on Sat. at 9 a.m.

LHS players look strong

After only a few weeks of practice, Lovell High School head coach Stormy Jameson is looking at a strong team with a wealth of experience this year. Four returning seniors, Jodi Walker, Erin Robertson, Leanne Winterholler and Miranda Griffis, bring a solid core of power, strength and attitude on to the volleyball courts.

Coach Stormy Jameson gives feedback to a group of players after an afternoon practice session at Lovell High School.

“Four of the seniors played really well last year. They were all starters,” said Coach Jameson of the four starters.

Walker was an outside hitter last year. “Jodi is very consistent, and she doesn’t make a lot of errors. She is someone who is really reliable all the way around,” said Jameson.

This will be Robertson’s fourth year of varsity experience. “She plays middle blocker and she’s probably our best hitter. When Erin is on the front row, she really carries us offensively and defensively. She had way more blocks than anyone else on the team last year.”

Winterholler, the team’s libero, plays back row for Robertson and the other middle blocker. She is the number one digger. “We rely on her for every defensive aspect. I tell her if the ball hits the floor it’s her fault,” Jameson said.

“Miranda is a right side hitter. She’s mainly a front row player and brings a lot of enthusiasm and energy to the court,” said Jameson.

Robertson and Winterholler are team captains this year.

Two seniors who are first time varsity players will also join the team — Maci May, a defensive specialist, and Schuylar Davis, a potential middle blocker.

The lineup of juniors on the varsity team this year includes Megan McClure (sole setter for the team), Maddie Baxendale (right side hitter) and Chelsey Ellis (outside hitter). McClure and Ellis are returning players with varsity experience from last year.

Coach Jameson has high hopes for freshman Emilee Reasch. “We’re looking for her to come in and contribute as a freshman. She has starting varsity potential,” she said. “There are a few girls we’re looking at in JV that we’re considering having suit up with varsity as well.”

Jameson said she feels like this team is more solid all the way around than the team last year. She also said she thinks the team chemistry will be good because they’ve played together before.

This tournament will be a first time out for this group to show their coach what they can do as a team.

“I like having this tournament because, although we have kind of set rotations in our heads, in this tournament we give everybody a chance to prove what they can do in a game situation.”

Rocky Volleyball: no guarantees

As far as Rocky Mountain High School volleyball coach Carol McMillin is concerned, the varsity team is never set in stone. Players earn their spot on the team week after week with their only guarantee being that hard work and playing well will keep them there.

RMHS Coach Carol McMillin gives some pointers to a group of players during a practice session that was held on Aug. 22

“Our philosophy is that girls earn a spot on varsity by their performance in practice,” she said.

With a taste of last year‘s state championship win still lingering, the girls are already excited and ready to go out and play, said McMillin.

Last year, five seniors graduated, and three of them were key varsity players.

Out of 19 girls, seven or eight will be selected for each squad to play at the tournament this weekend. Of the 19, only two are returning seniors and none of those seniors have varsity experience from last year.

Key players this year include Kallee Jo Wilson, a junior who was an all-conference player last year. Wilson is a powerhouse middle hitter who is already looking very strong in practice. McMillin describes Wilson as having very strong hits and leadership potential. “We’re looking to her for leadership on the courts,” said McMillin.

Rachael Allred is a sophomore, a setter and right side hitter. Allred played right side on varsity last year and set for the JV team.

Brianna Hocker is a sophomore outside hitter who played varsity last year.

Mandee Leonhardt is a junior right side hitter who played varsity on last year. She will be seeing a new role as setter for the team this year.

Isabell Gurrola is a senior middle hitter who is showing good strength on blocks and is developing a decent middle hit, according to McMillin.

Hopefuls include Haley Strom, a sophomore outside hitter who played JV last year, who McMillin says is working really hard in practice and looking pretty strong.

“My philosophy is that the girls actually earn their spot when they are on the court in practice, so any given week they can develop something really strong and beat out the next person. These girls have to vie for their spot daily. It’s not set,” said McMillin.

Every week the team has what McMillin calls a “hitter’s war” in practice where whoever hits the most shines. McMillin works all 19 girls at once in practice and only the best make the team.

“What we do is we have the younger girls come (to practice) earlier and they get just broken down skills a little bit more than the others,” explains McMillin. “Then we practice them all together, then the varsity girls practice more advanced skills.” For the basic skills McMillin draws upon the skills of her assistant coaches to help guide the girls in training in one large group.

McMillin has been using this method at the high school level for the last five years and it has taken her team to the state level competition for the last four years. The team played an undefeated conference season last year and won the state championship. The team has won the conference championship two years in a row.

“Whether this type of training works or not is a matter of opinion but it works for me. That’s the philosophy we use and it’s working so far,” said McMillin.

Although McMillin lost three strong seniors when they graduated last year, two all-state players and three of them all-conference, she still feels positive about the group she is working with.

“So we lost some strong players but our younger girls are very motivated and they’re working hard. They got a taste last year and they’re not willing to give it up,” she said.

The non-conference tournament will allow coaches from both schools to take stock of the talent they have on hand and make their final decisions regarding the first conference games which begin next week.

By Patti Carpenter