WAPITI LEAGUE TO BE AS TOUGH AS EVER
By Joe Sova
Volleyball coaches agree that the Wapiti League is always tough, and the addition of Vale, which dropped down from Class 3A to 2A for this year, certainly won't weaken the conference.
While Vale comes in, Imbler and Joseph exit to 1A and the Old Oregon League, which now is bulging with 19 schools.
Grant Union went 7-0 in the Wapiti League last year and Union was second at 6-1, but it was Union that won the district championship. The Bobcats went on to place sixth in the 2A state tournament.
After hosting a jamboree last week, Union opens the regular season by playing at Weston-McEwen Friday before taking part in a tournament in Athena Saturday.
Elgin began the year Tuesday by sweeping Waitsburg, Wash. The Huskies play Friday at Pilot Rock. Enterprise competes in the Riverside tournament Saturday in Boardman to open its season.
"Vale is a good team," Union coach Patty Herron said, "but the teams we lost are very competitive too. Our league has always been tough."
Herron expects her team to have another strong season.
"I do think we have a chance to place in the top group," Herron said of the Wapiti League.
The coach said the Bobcats were "up and down" during the Union Jamboree and failed to stay focused through the day.
Herron has three seniors, led by 2003 first-team all-league middle blocker Sandra Merideth. Setter Angie Collins and middle blocker April Savely also earned league honors.
Also returning is Union's first-team all-league setter, junior Chelsea Herron. Merideth, Collins and Herron are the team captains.
Also expected to contribute for Union are juniors Randy Williams, Chelsey Haywood and Shawna Churchill, and sophomores Jennifer Brotherton, Talia Bunkers and Shae Bauer.
"We're still searching for the (right) lineup," coach Herron said.
"Our quickness is a strength," the coach said, as well as experience. "We don't have a lot of height. We have to make adjustments for that. Quickness has helped in the defensive area."
Elgin in rebuilding year
The Huskies lost nine seniors from last year's team and has only two returning varsity players, according to head coach Twila Ivins.
"It's kind of a rebuilding year," Ivins said.
The coach has five seniors, including strong outside hitter Kristin Thamert and middle blocker Josie Cross. The others are serving specialist Rebecca Sanders, outside hitter Erin McClure and defensive specialist Shelly Zekmiester.
Junior Tara Lampkins and sophomore Alli Burgess are the setters, and Ivins said Burgess has a "great set of hands" and is "Miss Hustle" on the team. Junior Brittany Beedle and Prairie Rose Tucker are valuable utility players, according to Ivins, and Tricia Gibson and Jaclyn Percell are vying for varsity playing time.
"It's a young group of girls at the varsity level," Ivins admitted, "but this group of girls really came together."
Ivins said strengths are playing unselfishly and being a team.
Enterprise runs new offense
Enterprise returning head coach Tammy Crawford has a veteran team, which features five seniors, led by setter Jessie Morgan and middle blocker Kallie Hadden. The others are outside hitters Chelcee Noland and Kayla Stoffel, and middle blocker Alyse Fischer. All but Fischer are returning starters.
At 6-foot-1, Hadden is a top hitter on the team, backed by Noland and Stoffel. Morgan is the primary setter.
Juniors on the Enterprise varsity are Maddi Smith, Rayanna Mitchell and Alysha Huffman, along with sophomores Rachel Schaefer, Nicole Santiago and Liane Maasdam.
"We're much better hitters," the coach said, comparing this squad to last year's team. "They really know each other well. They're all pretty dedicated to the game."
Back-row play was a "chink in our armor in the past," Crawford said. "Hopefully our defense is going to be a step up from last year."
Crawford said Enterprise is using a 5-1 offense this season to utilize the talent of Morgan, rather than last year's 6-2 attack.
"We custom fit it to our talent," the coach explained.
Looking at the league, Crawford said newcomer Vale is not going to "walk all over the Wapiti," despite being a larger school than the others.
"I like to think we're one of the top teams too," Crawford said.
Other teams will not see the true Enterprise team at the Riverside tourney. Hadden and Noland will miss the day due to rodeo commitments.
"That will make a difference," Crawford said.
The coach said Mitchell and Huffman will be thrust into starting roles in their place.
"We won't have all our guns there," Crawford added.