Volleyball team looking to pick up where it left off last season
September 4, 2019
One thing is clear about this year's Sweet Home volleyball team: They aren't going to sneak up on anybody.
The Huskies reached the state championship semifinals before finishing fifth last year with a lineup dominated by freshmen, and they probably could have gone further, with a little more seasoning.
But that's where they are now.
"We definitely surprised people last year," Coach Mary Hutchins said. "This year everyone is gunning for us."
That would include Sisters, which finished second to Sweet Home last year in the Oregon West, in which the Huskies ran the table. It was the Outlaws who finished their season in the playoffs, winning 3-2 in consolation after Sweet Home fell in three sets to Cottage Grove in the semifinals.
"I feel like we have that experience of going deeper into the postseason," Hutchins said. "They got a taste of it."
The Huskies are ranked No. 2 in the OSAA preseason poll, behind last year's champion Valley Catholic, which has seven first-place votes. Sweet Home has six.
The rest of the top 10 are familiar faces: Sisters in third, followed by Cottage Grove, Hidden Valley, Marist, Tillamook, Banks, La Grande and Marshfield, with Philomath 11th and Junction City 12th.
Gone to graduation are last year's seniors Marissa Kurtz, Sunhee Bitter, Samantha Coats and Aliya Boss, but the Huskies return seven players, all of whom spent a lot of time on the court last season: junior Allison Miner and sophomores Teja Abbott, Bailee Hartsook, Savannah Hutchins, Shelbey Nichol, Jamie Seward and Graci Zanona.
They are joined by seniors Katie Kurtz and Samantha Virtue, juniors Emily Windom and Maddee Housen, and sophomores Chloe Tyler and Adaira Burger.
"We're returning a strong core group that have played together a long time," said Hutchins, who is beginning her fifth year at the helm. "We had great summer attendance at open gyms. We have many girls that have invested a lot of time into the program and into improving their skills in the off-season."
Sweet Home hosted a jamboree Thursday, Aug. 29, with Marist, North Marion, Corbett and Philomath, winning all four of its games. Scores were 25-19 over North Marion, 25-10 over Marist, 25-15 over Corbett and 25-14 over Philomath.
Hutchins said she expects Sisters to provide formidable competition this year, as the Outlaws lost only one player from last year's team, which wound up third at state. Philomath also should be strong, she said, adding that she thought the score with her team in the jamboree did not truly reflect how good the Warriors are.
"Philomath is really tall. They graduated two key players and they need to get their chemistry worked out. I feel like Philomath will get it together and will come on stronger.
"Sisters is pretty similar to us. They have a lot of kids that play club in the offseason, that play a lot of volleyball. They know how to play together and they know each other well. They don't have those chemistry issues."
The Huskies are "really focused," she said. "They have pretty high goals for themselves and for their team. They're working really hard to make that a reality."
So what's it going to take to get to the state finals and, hopefully, win?
"I feel like we need to stay healthy, to continue to play hard every match," Hutchins said. "Don't underestimate anyone."
Her team has gained maturity and they're upping their game from last year.
"I feel like they are more confident," she said. "We are adding some different plays, speeding up our offense. We have been working really hard on our serve-receive. That is a focus for this year."
Another big goal is to increase communication on the court.
"We are a quieter team," Hutchins acknowledged, adding that they're working on that.
The Huskies have a total of 29 girls in the program, with three floating between varsity and JV.
Junior Varsity 1 players include Maddee Housen, Jess Maynard, Katie Miller, Tatiana Patricio and Kailee Pepple.
The Junior Varsity 2 roster includes Taryn Abbott, Chloe Doner, Zoey Erevia, Makayla Guthrie, Kendra Jamison, Kaylea Layman, Avery Nelson, Zoe Opperman, McKenzie Paslay, Renee Schultz and Kristan Stafford.
The Huskies open their season Tuesday, Sept. 3, hosting Tillamook, which is ranked seventh in the preseason poll. They play Saturday, Sept. 7, in the Cascade Tournament.
"We're excited," Hutchins said. "The girls love the support of the community. They really want to make them proud. They really want to represent Sweet Home well.
"We have a lot of girls that are athletic and driven. I'm excited. I'm proud of all the girls."