ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Expect a lot of classic senior moments from the Hillsboro High School girls’ volleyball team this year.
No, they likely won’t be forgetting dates, names or assignments. Rather, these are the kind of senior moments that come when a sizable class of talented girls have played together for a long time: experience, chemistry and, ultimately, success.
“The seniors have been great,” said Collette Burton, who, in her third year as head coach, will be reaping benefits from having one of the deepest, most athletically gifted classes of girls to come through the system in quite some time.
“There’s nine girls this year in the senior group,” Burton said. “Their chemistry is just outstanding together. They’ve been playing together so long that they work so well together.
“Most of them played varsity last year, so their past experience should improve their ability, too,” she added.
Gone from last season’s 24-7 team that lost in the second round of sub-state are starters Angela Herzet, Julie Hett and Dionne Jost. Herzet and Hett were first-team All-MCAA.
“Angela Herzet and Julie Hett were big losses,” Burton said. “They were great outside hitters and back-row players and team leaders. Dionne Jost was a good setter and we’ll miss her.”
But don’t cry for Burton just yet.
Heading the list of returnees is Jill Hein, a three-year starter and a unanimous All-MCAA selection last season.
“She’s a great blocker, good hitter, and a great back-row passer,” Burton said of the 5-9 middle hitter. “Really, she’s an all-round good player and hard worker.”
Next on the list is Holly Lindsay, an honorable-mention MCAA pick last season.
“Holly has been my setter for the third year in a row, and she’s a great setter,” Burton said. “And she always talking on the court, which is what we really need. She’s always talking to the girls and keeping them together.”
Another returning starter who should contribute a lot this season-now that she’s staying healthy-is Shannon Kroeker.
“We’ve had trouble the last two years with her spraining her ankle at the beginning of the year.” Burton said with a smile. “This year we taped it from the beginning, so it hasn’t happened.”
She said Kroeker, at 5-10, will set from the back row and will hit from the front row, left side.
Three other seniors with significant varsity experience are Shelby Estelle (5-8), a right-side hitter on the front row as well a back-row player, Robyn Penner (5-9), a second-year starter who plays all through the lineup, and Sara Thiessen (5-9), another right-side hitter.
Rounding out the list of seniors are three more solid athletes who will compete for playing time: Jenna Jost (5-5), Julie Wall (5-5-5) and Andrea Peachey (5-6).
With so many talented seniors, Burton said it’s likely that only two juniors will get much varsity experience this season: Elise Matz, who plays front row and back row, and April Funk, a setter.
The Trojans won’t have many weaknesses this year, but Burton has identified at least two areas for improvement.
“Serve-receive becomes a concern every once in a while,” she said. “When we get up against teams that have strong, hard servers, we struggle a little bit. But we’re working on that.
“We also are trying to pick up on our serve and put a little more speed on the ball to challenge the other teams a little bit more,” she added. “We’d like to serve at least 80 percent (accuracy) every game on good, hard serves.”
On the serving side, Burton singled out Wall for her “great topspin serve” and Hein and Penner for their power. They will be complemented by precision serves from Lindsay.
“Holly Lindsay can really place the ball,” Burton said. “She does a great job of moving the ball around, serving short when the receivers are back and serving it deep when they’re not.”
Burton thinks her team will be strong at the net and should do a good job of talking to each other.
“This year, the setters being able to move the ball around the net will be a strength,” she said. “Communication will be a big strength this year also because they are so close and have been around each other so much. I think they’ll be able to communicate throughout the match.
“We want communication and intensity from start to finish,” she added. “I want to see that every match. I don’t care if we’re way on top. I still need to see communication and intensity. I think it’s a big key.”
Burton said her team can challenge for a league title and sees Lyons as one of the biggest challengers.
“We struggled a little bit with Lyons last year and they ended up ahead of us,” she said. “So I think they’ll be tough again thus year. Serve-receive is the biggest concern there because they served hard at us and we struggled with that. But I think we’ll be able to handle that this year. Because we’ve really been working on serving harder, that’s helped on our serve-receive, too.”
Burton also has her eye on Hesston, an MCAA rival that ended the Trojans’ season last year at sub-sate.
“We’re really looking to play tough against them,” Burton said. “We go back and forth all the time and I really want to dominate against them this year.”
Burton likes her team’s chances in post-season play. When practice opened Aug. 13, she posted the acronym “WWYBO26?” on the wall and asked her players to figure out what it meant.
“Right away, the seniors were all together trying to figure it out,” Burton said.
Eventually, they got it right: “Where Will You Be Oct. 26?”
Burton said she was working in her second-story middle school classroom when she heard a shoe hit the window.
“When I opened the window, there were all the seniors and they all yelled: ‘We’ll be at state!’
“They’re there, they’re excited, they’re motivated,” Burton said. “Like I said, they’re great together.”
With two years’ coaching experience behind her, Burton said she’s grown into her role.
“I’m much more comfortable speaking in front of the girls,” she said. “I’m a lot more relaxed and feeling like I know what I’m doing now.
“It was a little scary when I wasn’t very much older than the girls I was coaching, which was kind of intimidating.
“I don’t feel intimidated anymore. I love it.”
The Trojans opened their 2001 season yesterday (Tuesday) against Council Grove. A complete report of both matches will appear in next week’s Free Press.
They play at Sterling Sept 4. Matches begin at 5 p.m.