BOURBON – New Triton volleyball coach Samantha Willsey looks out on the court at her team during a preseason practice and sees a lot to like.
The Trojans possess impressive height to go with plenty of athleticism.
But there’s something else that Willsey has seen out of the group in the preseason that pleases her more than the obvious physical attributes of her team.
“These girls have been eager to learn and want to get better and that makes my job easy,” said Willsey. “They’ve been working hard since open gyms in June and it’s insane how much they have improved in that time.”
Willsey, who is a Bremen native, coached the Triton 8th grade team five years ago. She then spent two years as the head coach at Southmont High School in …. and then did a lot of traveling with her husband. A year ago, the couple were living in Uganda.
“I love to travel, but I love coaching and I love this community,” said Willsey, who now teaches at Triton. “It’s been a smooth transition for me taking over because of the girls here. They are very coachable.”
Willsey has a quality quartet of returnees to lead the way this fall. The senior trio of setter Krystal Sellers, outside hitter Becca Kennedy and middle Lauren Howstrawser are all key players back. Add in outstanding junior Jaela Meister and the Trojans could be a force in the Northern State Conference and beyond.
“We do have height and athletes,” noted Willsey. “We’ve been working on defense a lot and our ball control. We also have a very athletic freshman class with a very high volleyball IQ.
“The key for us is for everyone to get on the same page. We need to make our offense run fluid. Right now, they’re still thinking too much out there.”
Triton opens the season at Oregon-Davis Aug. 21.
Hopes High For Tigers
Warsaw coach Mike Howard is anxious to start the season.
Then he looks at the list of quality opponents early on for his squad and is not quite as anxious.
“We are going to be tested early that’s for sure,” said Howard, whose team will face Marian, Elkhart Memorial and several outstanding teams in the Mishawaka Invitational in the first couple weeks. “Our schedule is challenging.”
“But, we bring back some quality players. This group wants to put their own stamp on the program and form their own identity.”
The Tigers went 25-8 a year ago, but lost eight seniors. Warsaw rebounded from a slow start last fall a year after a breakthrough season in 2012 when they upended Memorial to win the Northern Lakes Conference championship.
Howard has a great player to build around in senior Katie Voelz. The strong middle hitter has been a force her entire prep career.
“Katie is a great piece for us,” Howard remarked, “She’s our anchor. I expect her to give us steady leadership and to bring the level of play of her teammates up.”
The Tigers also return setter Cassie Hoag and libero Peyton Adamiec. Also key are Caroline Mayer and Celia Heckert, the only other senior on the team.
“We’re looking for that sixth piece right now and figuring out our outside hitters,” said Howard.
The trio of juniors Haley Peterson and Courtney Steffensmeier and sophomore Kenzie Welk will also be counted on for the Tigers.
“We want to hang our hat on Kate, our system play and that the kids buy into what we want them to do,” Howard stated. “Ball control and our serving will be key. We have some good young hitters.”
Warsaw hosts Fort Wayne Snider in the opener Aug. 20.
Seniors The Key For Wawasee
The Lady Warriors from Wawasee lost three seniors from a squad that tallied 15 victories last fall, but what Wawasee returns is the bigger story. Seniors Alli Ousley, Aly Anderson and Paige Hlutke all bring a lot of experience back with them for the upcoming season.
“This is the senior year for that first group of freshmen we had when we started out,” Phillips began. “So, this is the first senior class that is really ‘ours’ that we’ve had for all four years. Obviously we hope that the growth that they’ve been able to achieve in their time with us will show this year.
“The past few classes we had obviously did not have as much time with us but those girls still made big strides in the short amount of time that we had them and hopefully we continue to make steps forward this season.”
Wawasee’s top three will also receive help from players like Addison Ayres, Becca Anderson and newcomer Grace Ondrla.
The Lady Warriors open the campaign by hosting Tippecanoe Valley Aug. 19.
Teel, Youth The Story For Vikings
Tippecanoe Valley coach Mallory Eaton says her team is so young this season that only four of her players can drive.
It’s a good thing though that on the court the Vikings still have Caylie Teel to man the steering wheel of the squad.
Valley will rely heavily on the do-it-all senior star. The high-flying 5-7 Teel is receiving Division I college interest for her ability to play every position superbly for Eaton.
“I give all of my seniors ownership of the team” said Eaton. “This is their team and they are doing a good job.
“I’m excited about this year and what we can do. We are very young and inexperienced, but they are competitive and want to win. We have people in new places this year, but I’ve seen big growth from them in the preseason.”
Valley graduated five seniors from last year’s team that finished 18-10 and was sectional runner-up to Fairfield. Additionally, stellar sophomore Anne Secrest chose not to play volleyball this year to focus on basketball.
The Vikings will count heavily on senior libero Jayden Biddle, junior middle Lexi O’Connell, sophomore outside hitter Abby Betten and freshman defensive specialist Olivia Trippeidi.
Valley opens the season at Wawasee Aug. 19.
Whitko Eyes Even Bigger Things
That’s what the Whitko program hopes to make this fall.
The Wildcats return four starters from a squad that won nine matches in 2013, the program’s best total since 1998.
“I’m really excited for this season,” said fourth-year Whitko coach Brandy Smith. “The girls have put the time in and worked hard and that’s exciting to see.
“The program is moving forward and the girls just want to keep making history after last year. We want to be competitive in every match, finish in the top half of the TRC and get double digit wins.”
The Wildcats will count on a strong senior group, led by returning hitters Maddie Gawthrop, Tressa Keim and Delaney Ray and talented setter Elaine Warner.
“That’s a big core for us to have those four back,” Smith said. “They are willing to do what it takes.”
Also back and key for Whitko are juniors Emily Day (middle), Emily Hughes (libero) and Desmond Gregory (defensive specialist).
Whitko opens its season at Lakeland Christian Academy Aug. 19.