Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 30 August 2011 16:42
Powerful attack hits on the front line may wow the crowd, but Hillsboro volleyball coach Sandy Arnold is looking for proficiency in less glamorous areas to power her team toward another successful season this fall.
“The two things we will stand on is passing and serving,” said Arnold, who starts her eighth season at the helm with a 194-69 record and five state tournament appearances. “Those two things will help my team more than anything.”
All but three players return from last season’s 31-12 squad that placed second in the Central Kansas League and made it to the Class 3A tournament in Salina.
Gone are seniors Allie Faul after a three-year run at setter, and middle-hitter Hayley Jirak. Junior front-row veteran Taylor Thiessen will sit out the season to recover from a shoulder injury.
Filling the holes
Arnold said the setter position appears secure in the hands of senior Callie Serene (5 foot, 7 inches), who was the team’s secondary setter last season.
“Callie is going to have a big role,” Arnold said. “She could be the main setter mainly because of her experience. She’s also grown and filled out a little bit. She’s a decent jumper, so that helps if I play her on the right front.”
Serene has good hands and has learned a lot over the years, according to Arnold.
“She and the girls have worked on different kinds of sets and attacks, and I think they’re having fun with that,” Arnold said. “Because of her position and age, she’s definitely a leader and a quarterback—she’s going to have to be. ”
Filling Jirak’s middle-hitter position has been Arnold’s biggest question during the preseason.
“I have two or three girls I’m looking at,” she said. “It will take time to see who will really come through.”
One of the candidates is senior Krista Reimer (5-10), who received all-league honorable mention last season for her work on the front row.
“I think Krista could have a breakout season,” Arnold said. “She loves the game and she does anything you ask her to do. She’s working on her attacks so she has more than one to use. I think she’ll help us out defensively with blocking.”
Another candidate is junior Erin Loewen (6-0), who was an outside hitter a year ago.
“She’s been very willing to try those spots and learn it,” Arnold said. “She wants to go where she’s needed, but we’re still learning where we want to put her.”
A comer on the front line is sophomore Addie Lackey (5-7), who came on strong toward the end of her freshman season.
“Addie will be a huge contributor this year,” Arnold said. “She’s just an athletic kid. She also is talented enough to play multiple positions. I could see her being on the court a lot.”
More key contributors
Of course, the Trojan front line will be anchored by junior outside hitter Tena Loewen (6-0), a first-team all-league pick who also received honorable mention at the state level as a sophomore.
“She’s hitting the ball well—she and Callie are really starting to connect,” Arnold said. “Tena is just all-round very good. She has a knack for getting to the ball. She hustles. She’s not going to let anything hit the floor, whether it’s her ball or not, and she can make good things out of bad passes that not everybody else can do.
“A lot of that is God-given talent, and a lot of that is her sheer desire to want to do it.”
Meanwhile, an anchor on the back line is sophomore Danea Bina (5-4), who may see time on the front row this year as well.
“She looks very strong defensively,” Arnold said. “For her age, she’s so good at reading what’s going to happen from the opponent. And she’s another one who will not let anything hit the floor without a lot of effort.
“A lot of times she’ll surprise her own teammates because she’ll pick something up that they weren’t expecting, which is fun,” she added. “It gets everybody pumped up when you do something like that.”
Arnold said Bina could do a variety of things on the court this season.
“The question is whether I want her all the way around, or just want her in the back row,” she said. “It will boil down to where I need her the most. I don’t want her off the court very much.”
Among the Trojans vying for playing time are seniors Sammy Koons (5-6) and Lindsey Brazil (5-4) and juniors Maci Schlehuber (5-7), Christina Morris (5-7) and Ashley Bartel (5-8).
“I have a lot of decisions to make yet,” Arnold said last week.
Looking for success
Anchored by six returning starters and letter-winners, Arnold isn’t the only one looking for success this season.
“I think they’re very excited to see what we can do,” she said about her squad. “Anytime I start a season, I think you have to have a little time to jell. But once we get into the groove of who will play where, it will be better.”
Arnold said her team has been working on serving techniques during the off-season.
“We will be good servers,” she said. We’re adding to our arsenal there, trying to get some more jump serving. We’ll see what we can bring to the table with that.
“They’re a fun group,” Arnold added. “They work hard. They know me well enough that they know what I expect, and they know I’m not going to be satisfied with something less.
“With some of the new things we’re trying, and getting people in the right places, it’s going to be a good season.”
One of the assumed goals for Arnold’s program is another visit to the state tournament. Closer to home, though, she’d like her team to claim a league title this season after finishing second to Pratt a year ago.
“It’s been a while since we’ve won the league,” she said.
Arnold expects Pratt (29-9 in 2010) to be a contender again this year with the return of all-league hitters Aubrey Hoover and Payton Hoeme.
Pratt’s strength was confirmed Saturday when the Greenbacks edged the Trojans for the CKL Preseason Tournament title in a two-game championship battle after HHS defeated Pratt in pool play.
Smoky Valley claimed third place, followed by Hesston, Halstead, Sterling, Haven, Nickerson, Lyons and Kingman.
“Our league is strong,” Arnold said. “We’ll have our work cut out for us. It’s our job to make sure we’re ready to go on our side of the court. And it’s our job to know what the other team’s strengths are and take them away.”
Hillsboro will make its home debut Thursday, Sept. 8, when Council Grove, Riley County and Herington come to Brown Gymnasium for a double dual. Matches begin at 5 p.m.