Volleyball building tough team in league of giants

Scott Swanson

One thing is sure for Sweet Home as it looks ahead to its 2023 volleyball schedule: There will be no easy nights.

That’s because the Huskies will face some of the top teams in the league this year, including defending state champion Marshfield in an endowment match-up in Coos Bay on Sept. 5, shortly after this publication went to press.

The Pirates boast two of the state’s top 4A scorers in 5-11 junior outside hitter Tatum Montiel, who has 338 career kills at the varsity level, and senior Bridget Gould, also 5-11, who has 325. Marshfield also returns its entire roster from its state title team.

The Huskies won’t have to go too far to find the other competition. Coach Mary Hutchins predicts that the Oregon West Conference, in which defending league champion Cascade finished second to Marshfield last year, will provide plenty of tests.

“We have a very tough, competitive league where you get no nights off or ‘easy games’,” so we have our work cut out for us,” Hutchins said. “There have been lots of transfers and club kids joining teams in our leagues, so we have a lot to work on to be able to compete.

“Philomath and Cascade and Stayton are expected to be very tough this season so we will need to prepare for those teams. We were able to have some kids participate in a summer league, so we got to see some of the competition and know it will be fierce.”

This year’s team will bring more experience to the floor than the 2022 Huskies, who had one varsity returnee in Kaylynn Mamac. Mamac, now a junior, has been to state every year at Sweet Home as a three-year starter. She heads a group of nine returnees from last year’s varsity, along with four newcomers.

Joining her on the varsity roster are eight seniors from last year’s varsity lineup: Brooklyn Hanni, who was a starter and leader for the team throughout last season, Makennah Deckard, Adi Graber, Emily Ramussen, Stephanie Saultz, Natalie Summers and Kaylene Zajic; and junior Tiara Reynolds.

Though they were missing some of the height and experience that helped establish the Huskies as a team to beat over the previous seasons, last year’s group finished 13-9 last year, second in the OWC, and won a play-in game over Junction City before falling in the first round on the road at Henley.

Joining those returnees this year, moving up from the junior varsity ranks, are freshman Karissa Jewell, who will swing with the JV, senior Kaydence Kistner, and sophomores Miley Smith and Trin Victor.

Hutchins is assisted by Shauna Baxter, Erika Evans, and Emily Marchbanks, who is sharing the head coaching responsibilities.

Volleyball certainly doesn’t appear to be losing any momentum in Sweet Home. Hutchins said she had 54 girls try out for the program, which is even more than last year’s numbers, and “we had a huge turnout at our camp too.”

Under Hutchins, entering her ninth season at the helm, the program has clearly thrived, with four alumni currently playing at four-year schools: Jamie Seward at Austin Peay University in Clarksville, Tenn.; Graci Zanona at Corban; and Samantha Hutchins and Shelbey Nichol at College of Idaho. The latter three helped Linn-Benton Community College to consecutive Northwest Athletic Conference titles over the past two years before moving on. All four were major contributors to Sweet Home’s first-ever state title in the sport in 2021.

Rounding out this year’s Junior Varsity roster are senior Alyssa Peterson, juniors Jocelyn Fairchild and Sophia Stock, sophomores Hailey Cartwright, Keira Johnson, Aubrey Newberry, Natalie Smith and Isabella Wagner, and freshmen Aaliyah Brown, Karissa Jewell, Kaitlyn Kennedy, Alisyn Totman and Victoria Victor.

JV2 team members are sophomores Lily Bishop, Krista Reed and Averi Temple, and freshmen Mailey Brewer, Kandace Claunch, Emme Coelho, Kalissa Ellis, Amara Gonzalez, Hannah Nicholson, Courtney Newell, McKenzie Olheiser, Lexi Rundell and Tori Jones.

This year’s Huskies have opened their season with two wins, blanking Molalla at home (Aug. 31) after opening on the road with a 3-0 win at Junction City.

Following the Cascade Tournament on Sept. 9, the league season will begin Sept. 19 at Stayton.

“We would like to see the team compete within our league,” said Hutchins. “Our goals are working on our mental toughness and being able to execute in tough moments and staying together as a team – supporting and building each other up and also working hard to accomplish goals together.

“Marshfield is expected to repeat as state champions this year, as they are returning their big hitters and one of them is committed to play for the Ducks next year. We are still setting goals within our program and with our teams and, of course we have gone to state for the last six years, so our goal is to make it there again and see what we can do.”