Mt. Spokane finished third at state last season behind all-Greater Spokane League outside hitter Miahna Waters. But Waters graduated this summer along with two other important starters, Katie Maher and Emma Spurbeck.
How do you replace a two-time, all-state player like Waters?
“You don’t,” Mt. Spokane coach Dave Whitehead said. “You move on and just everybody steps up. Miahna is Miahna and she is doing a great job down at Southern Utah. We are more of a balanced team where we can set anybody in the front row and we know we are going to have a good attack.”
This season’s team has a balance that seven-year head coach Whitehead said gives the Wildcats another chance to compete at state.
“It is really important that we come together and when you watch us, hopefully you see all of us contributing, not just one or two,” he said.
The balance is only part of the equation, though. A team needs a central figure to rally around. This season and most likely the next, that player will be junior Malina Ama.
“Looking at her growth every year, growing from someone who was a secondary choice (her freshman year) to one that if we need something, we know we can go to her,” Whitehead said.
She has taken the first-choice outside hitter role in stride and the third-year varsity starter has a family full of athletes to lean on as well.
Her older brother, Risone, graduated last spring from Mt. Spokane and is redshirting on the Eastern Washington football team this year. Ama’s sister is following in her footsteps and will look to compete for a spot on the varsity team after she finishes her eighth-grade year.
Both of her parents played volleyball at points in their life. Her father is from Samoa and her mother from Inchelium, Washington, where she played for the Hornets.
Volleyball has been a part of Ama’s life since she was 10. She joined the club team Cats from day one and still competes with them.
Ama has two seasons left before college becomes a reality, but she has already had a few discussions with some interested schools.
If she had to pick a favorite, Washington State would be up there as well as any school in California where they play in sand.
But first, she has some work to do for Mt. Spokane.
Besides the obvious goal of wanting to claw back the state tournament, Ama has some personal goals in mind. First and foremost, she wants to focus on her leadership. She is a quiet leader, but she wants to be louder. For as quiet as she is, the team still respected her enough make her one of the four captains.
“I think just being there for the team every game has helped me be a leader and makes me play my best every game,” she said.
If all she has to do is show up and play like a first-team All-GSL player she and the rest of the Wildcats will be in good shape to make it to the Yakima SunDome in November.
“We have gotten a lot closer this year and I think we are going to do something great,” Ama said.
The rivalry between Mead and Mt. Spokane will be ratcheted up this season as the Panthers lost three All-GSL players, including the league MVP, Maddie Lee. Mead took second behind Auburn Riverside in State 4A last season but is reloaded with young talent.
Mt. Spokane has lost to Mead the last two seasons, getting swept last season after taking a game against the Panthers in 2016.
In general, the Greater Spokane League is well stocked from top to bottom.
“I see Mead, I see (Gonzaga) Prep, without a doubt,” Whitehead said. “I think (Lewis and Clark) is going to be much improved and I think (University) and (Central Valley) are going to get better and better. And Ferris lost a player who transferred from us and she just went out with a stomach injury, so if they get her back, I think they are going to be very good, too.”
Central Valley (5-4 league) returns one starter off last year’s fourth-place team: second-team all-league outside hitter Sami Smith. “Our senior returners are short but smart, gritty and strong leaders,” coach Jason Allen said. “They play great defense and are amazing teammates.” … Ferris (4-5) coach Any DeAndre has eight lettermen and five starters back, including second-team all-league libero Carly Cox and setter Katelyn Brock. “Passing should be a strong point, but we’ll need to be smarter servers and hitters,” DeAndre said. … Libero Ashlyn O’Keefe, a second-team all-league selection last year, leads three returning starters to coach Jill Benson’s Gonzaga Prep (7-2) squad. “We have a fair amount of height across the front row, along with depth and flexibility with players in multiple positions,” Benson said. … Coach Chris Kosty’s Lewis and Clark (3-6) squad is led by senior middle hitter Amanda Reed and setter Elizabeth Stoa. … Coach Shawn Wilson led Mead (9-0) to a league title and placed second at state last year, but loses eight lettermen and four all-league starters, including MVP outside hitter Maddie Lee. “We have some really talented and athletic players but we are really lacking in varsity experience,” Wilson said. Senior first-team all-league hitter Katherine McEuen will be the Panthers’ leader. … Junior setter Lilli Carruthers leads North Central (0-9) for coach Whitney Abel. … Rogers (1-8) is led by junior setter Lidiya Pankova and senior libero Jaiden Fairchild, and coached by Elaina Rankin… Coach Brooke Meyer returns for her 19th season at the helm at Shadle Park (3-6), which lost seven lettermen. Senior hitter Meghan Gallagher and senior setter Natasha O’Dell return to pace the Highlanders. “We have a young and somewhat inexperienced team this year (four freshmen), but with continued hard work we will be competitive by the end of the season,” Meyer said. … University (6-3) returns seven lettermen and two starters, junior outside hitter Kristah Tiffany and junior setter Joli Poplawski. “Our coaches are looking forward to this season and watch these young ladies continue to grow on the on and off the court,” coach Tony Collins said.
Coach Heather Zorrozua returns four starters to her Cheney (7-5) squad, including junior middle hitters Shelby Draper and Abby Witt. … Second-team all-state senior middle hitter Genesis Wilkinson leads coach Chad Coupland’s East Valley (7-5) team, which finished eighth at state last year. … West Valley (2-10) has five lettermen and three starters back for coach McKinzie Turner, including junior setter Kilee Imada and senior outside hitter Aidan Kovac.
Coeur d’Alene first-year coach Carly Curtis has six returning lettermen, including senior middle hitter Kelly Horning (committed to Montana), junior middle Elii Schrader and junior setter Taylin Rowley. … Coach Mike Summers led Lake City (32-4) to a league championship and second-place finish as state last year. Returning is senior setter and 2017 state 5A/4A player of the year Klaire Mitchell and all-state outside hitter senior Ashley Kaufman. … Post Falls (26-13) coach Matt Barkey has six lettermen and two starters returning from a state fifth-place finisher, including senior setter Kayla Mayo and senior middle hitter Tessa Sarff.
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