It’s a question Washington State volleyball coach Andrew Palileo has heard often since the conclusion of last year’s breakthrough season.
Can you keep it going?
“That’s our biggest fear,” said Palileo, the 2009 Pac-10 coach of the year who guided WSU to its first winning season and first NCAA tournament berth since 2002. “We don’t want to be a one-year wonder. We’re trying to build this program to sustain success. One thing that might be a little skewed is anytime you have success early on they put you five years ahead of schedule.
“We’re only in our third year, so as a coaching staff we have to continue to tell ourselves we’re still trying to get it to that point.”
Which is better than the point WSU was at entering last season. The Cougars hadn’t won more than three Pac-10 matches in five seasons. They hadn’t been in the Top 25 poll since the 2003 preseason rankings. WSU (18-13, 6-12 Pac-10) briefly cracked the rankings but dropped out after losing nine of its last 11.
Certainly doubters remain. WSU was picked ninth in the Pac-10 preseason poll, but it has designs on a higher finish.
Palileo will build around Rachel Todorovich (right-side hitter), Brittany Tillman (middle blocker), Lewis and Clark High product Oceana Bush (libero) and Meagan Ganzer (outside hitter). Todorovich was honorable mention Pac-10 All-Freshman team. Tillman was seventh in the conference with a .322 hitting percentage. Bush made the All-Freshman team and Ganzer led WSU in kills per set (3.3).
Kansas State transfer Vanessa Murray (OH), Faith Hutcherson (defensive specialist), Alex Diemer (setter), Marcelina Glab (MB) and Conley Kipp (MB) should compete for playing time. Glab played on a South Dakota club team coach by Palileo a few years ago. Outside hitter Kaleinani Kabalis, a transfer from Western Nebraska Community College who is sidelined after having knee surgery, and setter Maddie Dolny (Moscow High, North Idaho College), who is awaiting word from the NCAA Clearinghouse, could become factors.
“We’re more athletic than we were last year, it’s just that experience factor,” said Palileo, whose team opens at home in the Nike Cougar Invitational on Friday and Saturday. “Our year will go how our setters develop.”
EASTERN WASHINGTON: The Eagles, coming off a second-place finish in the Big Sky, have numerous question marks as they attempt to replace three players who earned all-conference honors. First-teamer Hayley Hills and second-teamer Ashley Hamilton graduated. Sara Todorovich, an honorable-mention selection, decided to concentrate on school. She’s the older sister of WSU’s Rachel Todorovich.
Add in a couple of players battling health issues, Alysha Cook and Cora Kellerman, and the Eagles might need some time to get their best lineup on the court.
“I thought in spring we’d be fine and if we were healthy I still think we’ll be fine,” said third-year head coach Miles Kydd, whose team was picked fourth in the Big Sky preseason poll. “Whether everyone comes back to play or not, our job is to find a way to be successful. Our goal is to win a conference championship. I don’t see any reason to change.”
Middle blocker Chenoa Coviare, a first-team All-Big Sky selection last year, is one of the conference’s best players. Jacque Brown (OH) started last season. Shelby Puckett, as well as Cook and Kellerman when healthy, should provide firepower. Allison Reinstein (MB) will see time and Lindsey Petroni is an experienced libero.
EWU will probably run a 6-2 offense with Shadle Park grad Lindsay Niemeier and Laney Brown, Jacque’s younger sister, setting.
IDAHO: The Vandals are young, with 11 freshmen and sophomores. Idaho, third in the WAC last year, is picked to finish sixth.
“We have to prove ourselves,” said coach Debbie Buchanan, whose team opens up at WSU’s tournament this weekend. “We lost a big chunk from last year, but through camp I’ve been pleasantly surprised. We’re a little further along than I thought we’d be.”
Kelsey Taylor (Moscow High) will move back from outside hitter to middle blocker. She was selected to the preseason All-WAC team. Beyond Taylor, the rest of the lineup is a bit unsettled.
“This is the first year in a while we have a lot of balance and competitiveness,” Buchanan said. “We have two setters (Jenny Feicht and Washington transfer Ryann Carter) and there are days when it’s neck and neck. We have two liberos (Janelle Chow and Cassie Hamilton) going at it and four outsides, four middles.”
GONZAGA: Second-year head coach Dave Gantt believes his rebuilding program is right on schedule.
“The first 2-3 years you’re trying to create the culture you want and I think we’ve made tremendous strides doing that,” Gantt said. “My hope is maintaining the competitive level we established last year and putting ourselves in position to win every set.”
Caitlin Cozad returns at middle blocker and transfers Schylur Edelman (Colorado) and Kylie Edinger (Montana State) are additional options. Allyson Powell (libero) and Kaprina Goodwin (OH) have starting experience. Kelsey Bashaw and Denise Van de Mortel are battling at setter. Bashaw is also in the mix at right-side hitter. Edinger and Edelman are capable of playing multiple positions.
“We just need to fine tune some things to really put a lineup on a card,” said Gantt, whose team finished sixth in the WCC last year and is picked to do the same this season.
WHITWORTH: The Pirates opened up Northwest Conference play 0-5 a year ago and faced an uphill climb the rest of the way.
“We’re in a better place,” said coach Steve Rupe, whose Pirates are picked to finish sixth. “We’ve come in in better shape. Last year was kind of a wake-up call.”
Randi Stephens (MB) and twins Kaimi (OH) and Ka’ipo Rocha (MB) are established starters. Setter Bree Riddle (Freeman High) started 22 games last season and Brynn DeLong (Shadle Park, Community Colleges of Spokane) was a part-time starter at right side. Freshmen Kate Hamman and Jalana White (Post Falls) are options at setter and White could see time at right side. Amanda Grumbach, a transfer from Walla Walla Community College who sat out last season, is a likely starter at outside hitter.
“We have the talent to be one of the top teams,” Rupe said.
CC SPOKANE: CCS captured the 2009 NWAACC Tournament title and head coach Jenni Rosselli-Hull was voted coach of the year.
“We had a great offseason and super summer and we came back in great shape,” said Rosselli-Hull, whose roster consists of seven sophomores and seven freshmen.
Key returning players are Kelsey Kurtz (East Valley) at setter, Kealey Johnston at outside hitter and Casey Williams at libero. Freshmen Sasha Mitchell, a middle blocker from Lewis and Clark, and Brigitte Lowe, an outside hitter from Moscow, should be contributors.
“There are a few spots open,” Rosselli-Hull said. “We’ll see how it pans out in the next month.”
NORTH IDAHO COLLEGE: NIC, College of Southern Idaho and Salt Lake figure to stage another three-team battle for Scenic West Athletic Conference supremacy. NIC was co-champion last year, but failed to qualify for the national tournament.
“People are kind of overlooking us, which is great for this team,” said first-year coach Colleen Frohlich, a Coeur d’Alene native who played at Montana. “We have some time to work things out. I see us being right there (with CSI and Salt Lake).”
NJCAA All-American Marketa Hanzlova has moved on to Arizona, but honorable-mention selection Fei Gao returns. NIC’s core includes Tina Strahinick (OH), Brenna Peterson (setter), Gabriella Rifilato (setter), Lewis and Clark’s Janele Vogt (MB) and Pullman’s Danielle Hodge (MB). Rifilato’s father, Ed, is a former Idaho player and coach.