Seward named volleyball team’s Player of the Year

Senior Jamie Seward was named Player of the Year on Tuesday, Nov. 23, during the Sweet Home High School’s volleyball team’s end-of-year banquet in the school’s common area.

The 4A Oregon West Conference distinction has been given to a Husky player in each of the last five seasons, according to head coach Mary Hutchins,

She described Seward, who plans on playing volleyball at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn., as “sweet and humble.”

When a “D1” chant broke out at a Sweet Home home game this season, Seward turned around after she hit the ball and said “I don’t like that,” Hutchins recalled.

“She is welcoming to everyone,” Hutchins said of the player. “That is the way all these seniors are, and one of the reasons why we’ve had success. They don’t give me any back talk, and are really easy to coach. They expect a lot out of each other, but at the same time have grace for others.”

Senior Adaira Sleutel was named First Team OWC as a middle blocker. Hutchins talked about how the player “gets fired up” and is a “voice on the court.”

“There were moments in time where I was scared of Adaira,” she said with a laugh. “But I just said ‘Continue. It might work on the other team.'”

Hutchins noted Sleutel’s desire to play her best. “Her expectations for herself were unrealistically high,” she said. “She would hit a ball really hard, and then say that she wanted to hit it harder.”

Senior outside hitter Chloe Tyler received an OWC honorable mention.

“She likes to be good at everything she does and is a great teammate,” Hutchins said of Tyler. “She has a competitiveness that is similar to what I see in myself, and I saw it even on the playground [when Tyler was a young girl]. She has that fiery spirit.”.

Senior setter Kailee Pepple was also an honorable mention, despite not playing last season.

This season, however, Hutchins noted that Pepple was the only varsity player to compete in every game.

“She worked really hard on her hands and would stay after practice,” Hutchins said, describing how “mellow” Pepple was. She told the setter ‘I feel like you’re not using all of your athleticism,’ to which Pepple responded, “That’s probably true.” After that interaction, the coach continued, her athlete “opened up a can and then was all in.”

The Huskies finished the regular season at 10-5. In the playoffs, they advanced to the quarterfinals before falling to Cascade, the eventual state champions.

“We had a really good season this year,” Hutchins said. “A lot of people didn’t expect us to make the playoffs, but we were super-determined to do that. We were determined to get something that worked for us. At first it took us a while, as we were struggling to find something that worked.”

“We lost a lot of kids [eight to graduation after last season] but we gained a lot of kids,” she said, noting that the 35 girls who participated in high school volleyball this season was the most in the last five years.

“We were coming off of a crazy year. When we were told the girls didn’t have to wear masks in practice, that was pretty exciting. And we were able to sit by each other on the bus, which we weren’t able to do last season.”

She also mentioned that her team was able to play in front of a student section again this season.

These are things that you “don’t realize you miss” until they’re gone, Hutchins said, expressing her “feeling of gratefulness” for “getting some normalcy.”

Throughout the season, the JV and varsity teams meshed together, in part because of COVID-19 quarantine situations.

“Due to factors completely out of our control, we were missing positions and had to swing kids,” the coach said.

“But everyone had great attitudes, even when I struggled,” she added. “If you are someone who is really competitive and you are planning ahead and then you learn that a kid is going to be out for eight days, sometimes it is challenging. But we did it.”

Over those same five years, Hutchins mentioned that the team is 83-19 overall, 48-7 in league, and 36-2 at home.

“What makes the program strong is you and your kids,” she told parents at the banquet. “That is what makes our program great. We are here to facilitate for your kids. Our success comes from you and your commitment.”

And Hutchins defines success as more than just wins and losses. While admitting that “We like to win,” she said, “The thing that keeps me going, the thing that keeps me coming back, is the kids. The kids and their personalities are so great. I have so many stories about your kids, and they are hilarious. It’s the thing that keeps sucking me back in.”