Husky volleyball team aiming to play its way to state

Scott Swanson

Following a trip to the state volleyball championships in 2011 by a Sweet Home team loaded with seniors who’d played together since freshmen, the Huskies had a serious void of experience last season and it showed.

Sweet Home went 4-6 in league and 4-12 overall in 2012, but even with an obvious learning curve in play, were actually in competition for a play-in berth until late in the season.

This year is different, with a sizable group of returnees who, fourth-year Coach Alicia Meier said, have one goal: Make state.

She said she likes the attitude she sees from this year’s team and she says this may be a turning point for the program.

“Everybody is going to give 110 percent,” Meier said. “It’s really nice.”

What’s even nicer is that she has an inflow of freshmen who have played club volleyball and, she hopes, will be the foundation for years to come.

One improvement this year over 2012 is that Meier can devote more attention to the program. Last September, she was in the late stages of pregnancy.

“Last year we just had a really hard time finding the right roles for the kids,” she said. “Half the fault was mine, being on maternity leave. It was just a little bit harder. We started out kind of rough last year.”

Though then-senior Megan Graville provided athletic leadership, she was only one of two players on the varsity who had been there before – along with then-junior Amanda Hubbard.

This year there are six seniors who provide the core of the team: Hubbard, setter Emily Marchbanks, Alena Davis, Harlee Brendle, Hannah Mather and Meagan Thompson, who moved up from last year’s JV.

“All of them are stepping up,” Meier said. “It’s really nice, not one kid feeling the pressure to be the leader. We have six strong seniors. It’s really falling on the shoulders of all of them, instead of just one. That was the situation last year.”

Also back are juniors Jordan Miller, McKenzie Cochran, Sierra Thayer, and Molly Fisher, who swung from the JV last season.

“They have experience from last year. They’re really focused on state. They’ve put in time for practices, daily doubles, really come and given their all,” Meier said of the juniors.

She said she expects sophomore Josie Knight and junior Carlie Somatis to swing between the JV1 and the varsity teams.

The JV1 team also includes Lola Wingo, Vanessa Wodtli, Rebecca Wooley, Karly Newport, Jessica Stockman, Katelyn Glover, Madisen Barringer and Shae Bruner.

JV2 players include Gracie Olson, Sarha Zanona, Shania Baxter, Natasha Rasmussen, Mikkala Weld, Melanie Wilson, Kaitlyn Autry, Elea Hewitt, Alana VanEck, Janel Aiello and Moriah Gingerich.

One challenge for the Huskies is one they’re used to: lack of size at the net.

“We’re not the biggest team, not the biggest girls,” said Meier. “Serve-receive and service will be our strengths. Our goal is that we can outlast everyone.”

She said the Huskies will need excellent ball control to play their game, especially against teams with taller players.

“We have to keep them off balance from the beginning,” Meier said. “They can’t really attack it if they can’t pass it.”

The goal will be to return balls that will force other teams to go straight to the outside hitters rather than play their other options in the center.

“We won’t get a lot of stuff blocks, so we want to take that part of the court away and let our defenders do the rest,” she said.

That kind of game fits the mentality and capabilities of her team, she said.

“We have hard-working kids. We have to take advantage of that. We need to be a ball-control team, play smart and minimize errors.”

Meier expects Sisters to be the team to beat in the Sky-Em Conference, with Elmira, Cottage Grove and the Huskies fighting for the second state slot.

Elmira will be playing without three-time all-league first-teamer and 2012 state First Team pick Jenna Loheed, who has moved on to Lewis and Clark College.

“She was a great player,” Meier said. “It will be interesting to see them without her. She’s been there for the last four years.”

Meier said the Huskies’ morale is “great” and she’s eager to see how things unfold – at all levels. Not only do some of the newcomers to the team bring experience from outside, but there’s some height coming up in the younger ranks.

“This is the first year we’ve had a significant number of freshman girls who have played club,” she said. “They’ve put in time over the winter, playing and learning volleyball. We have four or five girls who’ve played club on our JV2 team. I’m hoping this is building the next team that goes pretty far.”