Volleyball: Coaches rebuild with players who have strong sense of team

Scott Swanson

After making the state finals volleyball tournament last year for the first time in 15 years and finishing sixth, Sweet Home has lost five four-year varsity players to graduation and is reloading for this season.

Gone to graduation are Annie Whitfield, Tiffany Miller, Devyn Makin, Brandi Trewin and Emili Riggs, who formed the core of the varsity team for most of the last four seasons. But with such changes come new opportunities and third-year Coach Alicia Meier is looking to build on those.

“It’s pretty much rebuilding our whole program,” she said.

Though the turnout this year isn’t quite what it was last season – 28 players compared to 32 in 2011 – coaches are rebuilding around two key returnees, senior Megan Graville and junior Amanda Hubbard.

“They really have picked up the leadership role this year, both of them,” Meier said.

Moving up from last year’s JV will be senior defensive specialist Shantel Pitts, senior hitters Carissa Sipe and Sam Ashlock, and juniors Alena Davis and Emily Marchbanks. They are joined by sophomores Miller, Sierra Thayer and McKenzie Cochran.

Graville, Marchbanks, Sipe and Davis all played club ball together over the winter, which has helped their skills and chemistry, Meier said.

“They definitely came back with more skill and confidence. Plus, Megan had never played with any of them, so that’s really good.”

The massive change in personnel at the varsity level has opened the door for other changes, Meier said.

“Since we’re so young this year, we’re trying some new things that will get playing time for the girls. JV1 players might swing down to JV2 to give them playing time and different experiences. That’s something we’ve never done before, but the girls seem really open to it.”

Because Miller is the tallest player on the team, Meier said the Huskies will have to rely on defense to win games.

“We’re not going to have such a huge offense,” she said. “If we can defend, if we can serve tough, we can stay with them all. It really comes down to serve-receive. Serve-receive wins games.

“We just have to keep it on their side and let them make mistakes.”

That doens’t mean the Huskies will be ineffective on offense.

“We have some girls who can jump well, like Alena Davis and Megan Graville,” Meier said. “We have some girls who could be powerful hitters, but we don’t have a full-fledged offense.

“I just think consistency will be important. If we go in there with our game plan, and we serve and receive well, have a consistent offense and minimize our mistakes, we could do well. We may have a slower start, but once we get some experience, I’ll be excited to see our progress.

What the Huskies are strong in is team unity.

“In this group of girls there’s a level of commitment because they’re so happy to be there,” Meier said. I see a lot of potential in this group that other people may be overlooking. They have teamwork and they get along well.”

The schedule this year includes two tournaments, at Sisters and Seaside, and the normal tough league schedule.

“I think this year the league is going to be as strong as it was last year,” Meier said. “We’ll just be more in the middle. Sisters has a new coach and Sisters is always tough. Elmira is going to be tough this year. Cottage Grove always fields solid teams. Last year they were young. Junction City also has a new coach, so we’ll be interested to see what she does with the program.

“Us and La Pine, we’ll all be working up towards those top teams.”

The Huskies open their season Sept. 5 at Central, followed by their home opener on Sept. 11 against Philomath.

Meier, who is expecting her first child near the end of September, will be replaced temporarily by assistant Mary Hutchins, who helped coach the club program last winter.

She said she appreciated the JV coaches’ willingness to step in and help with the varsity.

“They’ve been gracious to do that,” she said. “It’s always nice to have people volunteering and assisting.”

Along those lines, she said she could use more help from people with volleyball experience, both to help with coaching and for serving as line officials during games.

“(Retired Athletic Director) Larry Johnson always volunteers to line games, “ she said. “But I’ve always had to ask parents to do it when their daughters are playing.”

Anyone interested in helping out should contact Meier at (541) 367-7144.