Greater Spokane League volleyball coaches have a chance to prove what they’ve said all along.
“On a whole, no question, the GSL is the toughest league in state,” said Shadle Park coach Linda Sheridan.
This year in the Tri-Cities, teams will be involved in a regional playoff with the Big Nine League, similar to basketball. As many as three GSL schools could qualify for state instead of one, as was the case a year ago.
“Last year was a travesty,” Sheridan said. “It was great for Lewis and Clark, which was definitely the best team. I’m not so sure Shadle and University were far behind.”
In 19 years, Shadle has lost only 35 GSL matches. And this year, North Central, Mead and Rogers all appear to be teams on the rise.
“Gonzaga Prep’s the favorite, no question, then Ferris,” said Sheridan.
While concurring that Gonzaga Prep is league favorite, Rogers coach Sharon Hankins said her team will have to mentally get past G-Prep when Rogers opens GSL play against the annual contenders.
Top four finishers from a six-team district advance to regionals.
“It gives more teams a chance for post-season play, if not state,” said Sheridan. “I’ve got to think that will help everybody in the long run.”
Shadle lacking size in the middle
The Highlanders return seven players from last year but have no height and are inexperienced at middle blocker.
“We are shorter than any Shadle team in the history of the program,” said Sheridan.
Veteran setter JoEne Heimbigner and sophomore Michelle Etter at 5-foot-10 are the team’s tallest.
Heimbigner is one of four seniors. Another, impact player and possible middle blocker Kelli Pilkington, is out for a month with a broken hand.
Senior outside hitters Courtney Clary, Shae Sullivan and setter Molly Hathaway, plus junior setter Megan Sturm and middle blocker Melissa Chadwick are letter winners.
“We have good outside hitters and are very experienced at setter,” said Sheridan, “but Melissa did not have a lot of playing time.”
Newcomers include sophomore outside hitter Brooke Olzendam, seniors Vanessa Childress, Emily Christensen and juniors Vanessa Larkin and Joy Potter.
“I trust the quality of our athletes,” said Sheridan. “It is a matter of how fast they come around.”
NC boasts standout pair
North Central has two of the best players in the GSL and enough supporting cast to be competitive.
What the Indians lack is depth.
“Not everyone’s back,” said coach Linda Bushinski of a team which had only two seniors rostered last year. “The loss of three girls hurt us. We had a lot of height there.”
Tamara Van Engelen and Aimee Wilson rival anyone in league.
“Tamara can dominate in the front row blocking and hitting,” said Bushinski. “Aimee is probably the best passer and one of the best defensive players in the city.”
Van Engelen will miss some matches while taking college visits.
Veterans Sarah Menard, a junior setter, senior outside hitters Erin Schumacher and Heidi Greenwood and junior Shannon Nelson will step up.
Newcomers are Mindy Rossell, Lisa Hammond and backup setter Brett Williams must help.
“I think we can realistically make districts,” said Bushinski, “and possibly regionals too as long as we stay healthy.”
Mead continuing to take steps
The fact that Mead has half a dozen returnees is encouraging. The team, though tall, remains young.
“It’s kind of a fallacy that we’re old and experienced,” said coach Judy Kight. “We’re young and excited.”
Mead has only four seniors on the team, two of them varsity veterans.
Included are 6-foot middle blocker Jen Clark and outside hitter Mandi Larson. They are joined by middle blocker Robin Janney and setter Marie Gallagher from junior varsity.
Juniors back from last year are 6-1 Jessica Sandborn, another middle hitter who could be the team’s best, 5-10 outside hitter Kelly Benad, setter Andrea Carnahan and outside hitter Lindsey Miller.
New are juniors Cheryl Adams, Alisha Simchuk, sophomores Staci Schuerman, Kortney Stewert and setter Kelsey Sturm.
“Our talent level is up and we’re working hard,” said Kight. “We’ll see how far it takes us.”
Pirates continue to improve
The process has been slow, but Rogers volleyball continues to steadily progress.
Last summer the Pirates won a summer league at University, including splitting with Ferris.
“This is the best team I’ve had since I’ve been at Rogers,” said sixthyear coach Hankins. “Pure talent is equal to last year but the experience and competitive nature is stronger.”
Five players, senior hitting leader Teana Scott, swing hitters Mandy Flores and junior Karly Nill and setters Jen Wells and junior Jaime Christensen all either started or played varsity ball last year.
The setters, said Hankins, are “what finally makes us tougher.”
Up from junior varsity are seniors Jaquelyn Castillo in the front row and Andrea Cons on defense, juniors Elizabeth Tilque, Kate Hanson and Lemandy Tannehill.
Sophomore 6-footer Monica Abrahamson will fill the middle, the area of Rogers’ greatest concern.
Rogers has its biggest turnout ever including a strong freshman class.
“I’m pleased with where we’re going depthwise,” said Hankins. “I haven’t kept anybody who can’t play volleyball. The whole attitude of the kids is changing.”