Five varsity veterans return to form the core of this year?s Hillsboro High School volleyball team: (from left) Allie Faul, Candace Weinbrenner, Dakota Kaufman, Taryn Mayfield, Franny Gottsch.
With five veterans returning from a 27-12 squad that qualified for state last fall, Hillsboro High volleyball coach Sandy Arnold isn?t dodging the expectations being thrust upon her team in 2009.
Preseason rankings from the Kansas Volleyball Association coaches have the Trojans at the top of the Class 3A heap.
That?s more than Arnold is prepared to defend, but it?s no secret she and her team have a return trip to Salina on their minds.
?Some coaches, including me, usually don?t want to say anything about state and jinx yourself, but I?ve already mentioned it,? said Arnold, who has compiled a 133-47 record and two state appearances during her five-year run at HHS.
?I think we all know that?s what we?ll be shooting for. Why would you want to aim for anything less than that??
Five at the core
The Trojans return outstanding talent at two critical positions on any volleyball team: hitter and setter.
Dakota Kaufman, a 6-foot, 1-inch senior, pounded more than 500 kills last season as the team?s lead hitter. In addition to being a unanimous all-league choice, she was named to the Class 3A state tournament team and was a first-team pick for all of Class 3A by the KVA coaches.
Arnold said Kaufman?s biggest improvement this season is her on-court leadership.
?She?s always led by example, but I see a lot more leadership in knowing when to say something and when not to say something (to teammates),? Arnold said. ?Actually, several girls have stepped up that way.?
As for her physical game, Kaufman returns as a stronger passer, which will be an asset as she plays through the full rotation.
?She?s tall, so she has to get down and that sometimes is the hardest thing for her,? Arnold said. ?She?s really worked at her passing, and we need her in there all the way around.?
Setting up Kaufman and the other Trojan hitters is senior Candace Weinbrenner (5-4), a second-team all-league pick a year ago.
Arnold is effusive in her praise of her primary setter.
?She has just a great sense of the game,? Arnold said. ?She?s very good, very quick, has a beautiful touch and plays great defense. She has good anticipation and knows her hitters.
?And she?s kind of like the Energizer Bunny?she doesn?t get tired very often. She?s in great shape. She?s going to be huge asset.?
Complementing Kaufman?s prowess as an attacker on the front row is senior Taryn Mayfield (5-10) at middle-hitter.
?Taryn?s really swinging well,? Arnold said. ?She?s definitely the next hitter on the team. I?ve always been told to put my best hitters on the outside, but I?m not sure we want to take her out of the middle right now just because I?ve got some rookies coming in. Sometimes it?s good to have one other experienced there to watch.?
Arnold declined to elaborate on the ?rookies? vying for the other outside-hitter spot, but said, ?There are some youngsters that are going to get a good look?I mean all the way down to the freshman, sophomore classes.?
One sophomore who will make a significant contribution on both front and back rows is returning letter-winner Franny Gottsch (5-7), currently tagged as an outside hitter.
?Franny will be fine?she?s getting some good swings in,? Arnold said. ?Franny and Dakota are both pretty good passers (on the back row as well as front-row hitters).?
Rounding out Arnold?s five veterans is junior Allie Faul (5-5), who did some setting a year ago and played strong defense in the back row. This fall she?s stepping into the role of libero.
?I think she can do it?all she needs is a little more confidence that comes from time and experience,? Arnold said. ?She?s really picked it up, though.?
Arnold said her returning nucleus is the obvious ?huge? strength of this squad.
?They know what to expect, they know what the competition level is like,? she said. ?These girls are really smart?they?ve listened to what I?ve taught and they?re applying it on the court.?
Experience gives her team an edge strategically, she added.
?We use our serve for more than to put the ball into play,? she said as an example. ?They know that, and we talk about that before each game. I think for the most part they?re pretty confident in themselves and each other.?
Arnold said this team?s energy level is another strength.
?There a very exciteable group?you?ll see a lot of enthusiasm,? she said. ?And I think they know the tradition of Hillsboro volleyball. They?re ready to go and are pretty eager.?
If Arnold has a concern, it?s knowing how the new players will make the transition to varsity.
?They don?t have to be the No. 1 go-to player, but they have to fill their roles and help us eliminate some of the pressure that?s on the others,? Arnold said. ?If we can spread (the contributions) and have people hit and block in those positions, we?ll be in good shape.?
League and beyond
Last season, the Mid-Central Activities Association finished with a dog-pile at the top?Nickerson in first (9-2) with HHS tied with Hesston and Wichita Collegiate for second (8-3).
Arnold expects more of the same from those four schools in this the final year of MCAA competition. In addition, Hoi?sing?ton was ranked No. 2 in Class 3A in the KVA preseason poll and Marion returns a core of outstanding athletes.
?The preseason tournament (played this past weekend at Lyons) will tell us a lot about the league,? Arnold said.
To get a full 36-point schedule this year and hone their competitive skills, the Trojans have added a couple of big-school confrontations during the regular season. The first one was Sept. 1 at El Dorado, including Buhler and Mulvane. The second one is a triangular Oct. 8 at Great Bend along with Newton.
?I think when we got to state (last season) it was a little hard for us,? Arnold said of their 1-2 performance. ?We need to see (that level of play) throughout the year. That?s why I put (those teams) in the schedule?it?s a new look, new teams, new offense. Those are the kind of things my team needs.
?You hate to say we?re OK just to play them close, but playing them close will help us,? she added. ?If you do beat them it?s even better.?
As high as expectations are for her team, Arnold doesn?t want her athletes to get caught up in that?especially in the early weeks.
?I know we?re supposed to be at the top, but it still takes time to get the feel for each other and know how that person beside you will perform,? she said. ?I don?t want them to get frustrated if it doesn?t go exactly as planned.?
She added with a smile: ?It doesn?t have to be perfect at the start; it just has to be perfect at the end.?