August 28, 2001 11:00 pm

By C.J. Gish

Observer Staff Writer

La Grande volleyball coach Teresa Dowdy hopes she can pull a rabbit out of her hat for the second year in a row.

Dowdy only had one starter returning last year upon entering the Class 3A Greater Oregon League. The Tigers won the division crown with a 14-0 record and went 26-5 overall en route to a seventh-place finish at the state tournament.

After losing 10 seniors from that team, she knows the opposition will again overlook the Tigers.

Well surprise people. Were young, athletic and have some size, Dowdy said. Nobody expects us to do well. Thats why well surprise.

The height edge is one shes optimistic about.

This will be a fun year. We can do a lot at the net. That will be different.

Leading the front row are 6-footers Kaci Lyman and Cathryn Ely, along with 5-foot-11 Kelli Greenough.

A lot will depend on how quickly the three will mature and contribute. Greenough, a junior, and Lyman, a sophomore, come up from the junior varsity ranks, and Ely is a freshman who will swing between the JV and varsity teams.

Dowdy will rely on her only two returning varsity players junior Erin Henjum and senior Kiley Moore to lead the Tigers.

Theyve matured and helped us get to the state tournament. Theyll be key players, she said.

Moore was a setter last year and Henjum is expected to be La Grandes go-to outside hitter.

Filling the other setter position will be junior Danielle Tams.

She was the starting setter for the JV team last year. She has good court awareness, which is a big plus for us, Dowdy said.

Senior Shanda Reddington and junior Kristy Short are slated as defensive specialists.

The outside hitter position is loaded, led by junior Hailey Hines. She will be joined by junior Kristin Brogdon, a right-side hitter, and sophomores Amanda Timm, Caylin Goss and Katelin Weaver. Brogdon, Timm, Goss and Weaver will split time between the JV and varsity squads.

The difference between this years team and last years is depth.

Well be deep on the bench, Dowdy said. Last year, we had a core group and we didnt always have players coming off the bench to replace their abilities.

Dowdy sees having just two seniors as a plus this season, compared with last years senior-laden squad. Im sure the other (GOL) coaches were saying last season, Heres a crazy coach. She has 10 seniors, Dowdy said.

The impact of losing so many players will be felt, but Dowdy isnt counting La Grande out of the race for a state playoff berth or the league title.

These girls have worked hard this summer to improve their skills. Our JV and freshmen teams were really competitive last year, she said. You never know where youre going to end up in the GOL. Our goal is to still get to the playoffs. Some of us are still optimistic well win this league.

La Grande has a tough non-league schedule, which features matches against Pendleton and Hermiston and tournaments in Philomath and Bend.

As for the GOL, Dowdy sees Vale, Burns and Baker among the top teams.

Vale has a couple key people coming back and should be strong. Burns is pretty good and Baker always has something, she said. I dont know about the other schools. Mac-Hi, Ontario and Riverside all have new coaches.

La Grande starts its season by hosting Baker, Pendleton and Hermiston in a jamboree Friday.