The Post Falls, Lakeland and Timberlake volleyball teams will be much improved this fall.
All three teams return the nucleus of teams that struggled last year.
Here is a look at each team.
The Trojans (5-18, 1-11) finished in the cellar of the IEL last year.
That won’t likely happen again this season. But the Trojans have much to prove if they’re going to be competitive in the conference.
Post Falls returns seven lettermen, all of whom were starters. They are seniors Amanda Jibby (outside hitter), Hailey Byrne (rightside hitter), Brittani Atwood (middle hitter), Angela Barr (mh), Aynslee Stuart (libero) and Ashley Bertsch (setter) along with junior Jalana White (s).
Junior Danielle Meehan (oh) is challenging for a starting position and junior Andrea Mohney (mh) also will see playing time.
The addition of some key players from a 16-5 junior varsity makes the Trojans understandably optimistic.
“I really like the enthusiasm,” Hanna said. “We have some younger kids who are bringing some positive energy and aggression. It’s something we needed.”
Hanna also has been impressed with her team’s work ethic.
“They really work hard,” Hanna said. “They want to work hard for each other and our coaching staff. It’s a new mix of girls, but a lot of them have played together for a while so they have some experience together.”
Hanna said aggression at the net has been a missing element.
“When I came into the program that wasn’t there,” the second-year coach said.
Hanna sees her team battling for a state berth. The 5A regional champ advances to state and the runner-up will play for a state berth in a play-in match.
“I think we’re going to surprise some people this year,” Hanna said. “They’re ready to work and play hard. People are going to need to be ready for us.”
The Hawks (7-17, 3-9), who finished next to last in the IEL last year, will be living an independent life this fall after Lakeland voted last spring to drop out of the league in all sports.
They’ll be seeded third when they join Sandpoint and Moscow to decide the region’s lone 4A state berth.
Lakeland returns 10 lettermen including six starters. They are seniors Kari Rucker (oh), Breezy Stecker (s), Alisha Watson (ds) and Ali Whitted (mh) and juniors Jamie Quillin and Alyana Watson (l).
Others who will see playing time are seniors Jordan Kelsey (mh) and Katie Imthurn (rh) and junior Alexis Jacobson (l/ds).
Having seven seniors and five juniors is much different for coach Claudia Ebel, who didn’t have one senior on the team last year.
“What I like is we’re more experienced,” Ebel said. “The kids worked extremely hard in the off season. They know the routine and what is expected of them.”
The Hawks must raise their competitive level considering Sandpoint, state runner-up last year, returns intact this year.
“(Sandpoint) has a number of returning players also,” Ebel said. “They have a ton of experience from their club program.”
Ebel said it will take near flawless play to knock off Sandpoint.
“I believe we can challenge Sandpoint if we play at the top of our game,” Ebel said. “We need to play consistently and we need to play consistently good. We have that potential.”
The Tigers (0-26, 0-8 Intermountain League) have nowhere to go but up this fall.
Timberlake returns six lettermen, four of whom were starters. They are senior Tasha Palmer (s/ds), juniors Megan Williams (mh) and Stevie Pritchett (l/ds) and sophomore Cassie Thompson (mh).
Others who will be counted on heavily are juniors Amanda Kirby (rh), Megan Hill (oh/mh) and Hannah Oden (s) and sophomores Caitlyn Nichols (oh) and Halee Edelblute (ds).
“My whole roster will see a good amount of playing time because I have a number of players who are at the same skill level,” Timberlake coach Michelle Garwood said. “It’s nice to have depth.”
Although Timberlake has just one senior, Garwood said the experience in the program as a whole is better than a year ago.
“We had 14 kids, from freshmen on up, who played club,” Garwood said.
Defending league champ St. Maries graduated three key starters and is breaking in a new coach. But the Lumberjacks still figure to be the favorite. Priest River and Bonners Ferry also should challenge.
The top two teams advance to state.
“I don’t know where we’ll be at (in league),” Garwood said. “It depends on if I have a leader that steps up. The girls have the skill to do whatever they want to do. We just need to put more things together.”