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Building a sustainable system

West Valley’s Grace Vazanko, a senior, returns the ball during drills during a West Valley High School volleyball practice Wednesday, at the school. (Tyler Tjomsland)
West Valley’s Grace Vazanko, a senior, returns the ball during drills during a West Valley High School volleyball practice Wednesday, at the school. (Tyler Tjomsland)

West Valley volleyball focuses on building a winning program that perseveres year after year

Some years are like this.

The 2012 edition of the West Valley girls volleyball team will be dominated by seniors. Rounding out the initial varsity unit will be a lone junior and a couple freshmen.

That’s not the kind of balance a coach wants to see in her program, and second-year head coach Julie Yearout wants to make sure it’s the last time there’s such a gap on her roster.

“We’re going to fix that,” she said.

In fact, the Eagles are well on their way to self-correcting the problem.

After stepping down as head coach a year ago, Drew Wendle and former head coach Stacy Delcour went to Centennial Middle School to take over the lone program that feeds into Yearout’s varsity.

The results from that first year already show big dividends.

“I have a lot of respect for Drew from when I was coaching at Lewis and Clark,” Yearout said. “To have Drew and Stacy working with those kids is making a huge difference. This year’s freshmen class came in and were just so far ahead of what I’ve seen from a freshman class in their skills and their polish. And I think having them at the middle school will also help draw more kids into the program.”

The program has excellent numbers, she said, and the Eagles will field a junior varsity squad as well as two C squads, meaning lots of playing time for 46 players in the program, 19 of them freshmen.

“I didn’t cut anyone at all this year,” she explained. “We want to get everyone the playing time they need and watch them develop.”

The number of players participating in club volleyball is not high, Yearout said. But the addition of Wendle and Delcour at the middle school and fielding a pair of C squad teams should help identify players who would benefit from some year-round play.

“I think players do come to volleyball when they’re a little bit older,” Yearout said. “I think part of it is the incredible success of soccer programs and other sports. And you do have to grow into this game – you’re not going to have a lot of success when you’re small.”

Besides, she added, she likes having athletes who play multiple sports.

The team’s biggest asset, however, may just be team chemistry.

“Team chemistry is amazing,” Yearout said. “It wasn’t quite this good last year and I’m not sure why that was, probably because I was new and we were getting to know each other. This year it’s been incredible. They support one another and push each other to make themselves better.”

A year ago the Eagles were 13-6 and reached the Class 2A Regional tournament in Yakima.

This year Yearout will rely on a half-dozen seniors to anchor her squad.

Two-time All-Great Northern League first-team setter Aaliyah Ashley-Meek returns to run the offense, with classmates Cassie Finn, Jerrilyn Prichard, Genna Fisher, Grace Vazanko and Hailee Gronnebek.

Yearout looks for Prichard to have a big season.

“She’s played well, but she was kind of in the shadow of Sequoia Lofton last year,” she said. “She played a lot of club volleyball this spring and it really shows. She’s really improved her game.”

Junior Katelyn Sage returns and will play a big role, most likely as the team’s libero.

Lexie Stephens and Sierra Schafer are two of three freshmen to already carve out spots on the varsity, but it’s fellow freshman Taija Williams who makes the coach’s face light up.

“I was just talking to my assistant coach and I was saying that we’re going to have to make a commitment to being here for at least the next four years because I want to be around here to watch Taija when she’s a senior.”

The coach said Williams will start as a middle blocker.

“I think it’s going to be a little rough at first for us,” she said. “We’re going to have freshmen playing quite a bit and it’s going to take a while for them to learn on the job. That’s why I really like the way our league is set up and we play everyone twice. The second time you play someone you could be facing a vastly different team because everyone improves so much over the year.”

Yearout is especially excited to see how much her own freshmen will improve.

That wild card is a main reason why it’s difficult to predict where teams will finish this season.

“I think last year we had a pretty senior-dominated league and everyone is going to be starting over from where they were,” Yearout said. “Colville is coming back into the league and that program is incredible. I think they have to be the favorites going in. Pullman is starting over with a new coach, so I’m not sure where they’ll be and I think everyone else is in a situation like us: where we are now isn’t where we’re going to be by the end of the season.”

Only two players return from last year’s All-GNL first team: Ashley-Meek and Pullman outside hitter Brittany Harvey, and only East Valley’s Sam Geibel and Cheney’s Liz Gill return from the second team.