On the heels of the best season in Marion High School history, the Warrior volleyball team will look to build on that successes. Last year, Marion rolled to a perfect, 9-0 Heart of America league finish and became the first Warrior volleyball team to reach and surpass the 30-win mark.
The Warriors went 33-4 overall, suffering a painful first-round sub-state loss to Halstead in three sets despite entering the tournament as the No. 1 seed.
Second-year coach Brea Campbell said last year’s final game is not talked about much, but it has provided a learning experience moving forward.
“It hurt a little bit, not getting to that spot where we knew we could be and not really fulfilling our potential in that game,” she said. “You’ve got to go in and act like a winner, not scared to be a loser.”
The Warriors lost six seniors to graduation, including four starters: Kirsten Hansen, Erika Hess, Marshelle Mermis and Bailey Robson. Also graduated are Elizabeth Meyer and Emily Schneider.
While a handful of familiar faces remain from last year’s squad, Marion will look to a number of new ones as well.
Three starters return from last year’s squad.
Kourtney Hansen, a junior, was named to the all-league first team. The 5-foot, 7-inch setter and hitter will help fill the void left by her sister, Kirsten.
“We lost our 5-1 setter last year, so that was a big hole to fill,” Campbell said. “Kourtney is stepping right up and doing almost the exact same thing her sister did.”
The Warriors named Kourtney their offensive player of the year in 2015.
Two seniors also return as starters.
Marissa Jacobson, a 5-9 middle hitter, received all-league honorable mention a year ago, while Shelby Felvus, a 5-foot, 2-inch outside hitter, was named the team’s defensive player of the year.
“They’re big hitters for me, all three of those girls,” Campbell said. “That’s a pretty big blessing to have them come back, especially after all we lost last year.”
Campbell will look to returning letter-winner Falon Crawford to contribute as a senior outside hitter and right-side hitter.
“She wasn’t a starter for me last year, but she’s grown tremendously over the year,” Campbell said. “She’s a great hitter now.”
Five newcomers may also be called upon this season.
Senior Taelyn Pagel and junior Courtney Herzet are in a battle for the libero position.
“This is (Taelyn’s) first time on our team,” Campbell said. “Courtney has made huge strides to be in that position as well. Both of them are doing a really good job for me.”
Junior Sam Richmond is stepping up her game as a setter.
“She’s never set before,” Campbell said. “Being a brand-new setter, she’s doing a great job, too.”
Juniors Jessi Lewman (middle hitter) and Bailey Baker (outside hitter and right-side hitter) help solidify a Warrior hitting corps that leaves Campbell confident of good things to come.
“Our hitting is not something I’m worried about because I’ve got a lot of hitters stepping up,” she said. “I’ve got Bailey Baker, who was not even a varsity letter-winner last year, but this year she’s coming in and hitting the ball harder than I’ve ever seen her hit it.
“Jessi Lewman is one of those leaders I talked about stepping up out of nowhere, and she’s pounding the ball. I think people are starting to understand there’s a lot of spots open on varsity and they’re taking those chances.”
At this point in the season, Campbell said hitting is the Warriors’ strong point.
“We’re starting to be more versatile, too,” she said. “That’s what I really wanted to be this year is become a team that can hit anywhere on the court, and that’s what they’re starting to do.”
Campbell said the team’s defense is still a work in progress.
Asked what reasonable expectations are following Marion’s record-setting season, Campbell said the team is entering the season confident, yet realistic.
Campbell said she expects Marion to be in contention at the top of the Heart of America league. Additional teams to watch include Remington and Hutchinson Trinity. Sterling is a new addition to the league this year.
“I think we’re still going to have those really competitive games that we’re just going to have to pull through, but I do think we’re going to be a top dog this year,” she said. “I hope the girls know that, too. I want that confidence level there.”
Marion will open its season at Hutchinson Trinity Sept. 6. The Warriors’ home-opener will be a triangular with Berean Academy and Wichita Trinity Sept. 13.