The Marion High School volleyball team was bounced out of the sub-state tournament last fall by a high-octane Hoisington team. Marion posted an 8-23 record for the season, and coach Jim Versch?s squad will look to build on the foundations laid in 2007.
The Warriors placed seventh in the Mid-Central Activities Association last year.
For the first time, the much-lauded junior class will be team leaders, not only because of superior athleticism, but also their experience.
Even with no seniors on the roster, Versch expects his 2008 team to be led well by the juniors.
Julia Zeiner, Lindsay Hett and Kayley Heerey are well-known for their exploits in other sports. Returning varsity players Emmali Kelsey, Tiffany Christensen and Kristen Stein?born might be less recognized publicly, but will figure prominently on the court with their classmates.
Sophomore Chassidy Carlson and freshmen Whitney Gordon and Annie Whitaker will be the top newcomers.
?We?ve got some freshman depth in girls who will see some varsity time,? Versch said. ?I?ve also got a couple of sophomores who will play, so we?ll probably be able to go about 11 deep.?
As the team?s primary setter, Hett will tee it up for her teammates. All-MCAA second-team outside hitter Zeiner and honorable-mention middle hitter Heerey will no doubt be two of Hett?s favorite targets. Kelsey will be libero.
?We have some great hitters,? Versch said. ?Zeiner is killing the ball and Heerey is killing the ball. Our problem is going to be getting the ball to them.
?So the only position that?s even kind of up in the air is setter,? he said. ?We return a setter (Hett) but my predicament is she?s a strong hitter, too. So do I utilize her just at setter, or do I develop an offense where she can be a hitter, too??
According to the banner on the team?s Web page, the Warriors have set one simple but firm goal: ?All the way to state in 2008? scrolls across the top of the page.
So expectations?both outside and inside the program?have clearly risen for a team whose strength has been its underclassmen the past two seasons.
?Having a team that comes to practice together already knowing our systems, our offense and defense, is going to be a big advantage for us,? Versch said.
He said Marion needs to develop another setter in order to take advantage of Hett?s hitting skills, and the team?s has little experience on its bench.
But with the consistency of the hitters, Versch believes this squad can move up in the standings. Marion finished 5-6 in league play a season ago.
Play opens with the preseason tournament to be played Sept. 6 in Marion?and the tournament will be something of a showcase, both for the team?s emerging identity and for the new gym.
Versch said one of the most exciting developments during the off-season was the opening of the new facility, which has, along with the general optimism about the team, attracted as many as a dozen ?groupies? to Marion?s practices.
?They?re mostly parents, but this is exciting for us,? Versch said. ?Football practice has always attracted people from the community, but I don?t remember volleyball practice ever drawing a crowd before.?
Versch is in the second year of his second stint as coach, and brings 16 seasons worth of experience as bench boss to the Marion sideline.
Versch totaled 14 seasons at the helm before his five-year retirement.