Having a large senior class can be a blessing and a curse.
On the one hand, having a core unit of seniors can give a team a depth of experience that only comes from having players who’ve spent years growing up together in a system.
And then comes the curse of graduation.
That’s the situation the University High School volleyball team found itself in to start the season.
“When you get a huge group of seniors they just understand how practices should be like and how you should work as a team,” junior hitter/blocker Rachael Schlect explained. “We had six seniors last year. We miss some of the stuff they bring to the team, whether that’s physical or mental. You definitely miss that mental toughness part of the game when you’re a young team. You can take that for granted sometimes.”
A first-team All Greater Spokane League selection as a sophomore, Schlect is a key member of the Titans’ new leadership.
“We have a good group of seniors this year,” she said. “We have three seniors who are all returners and we have five juniors back. By comparison, we’re a young team and we’re learning. But there’s a lot of potential with this team.”
Faced with a tough early-season schedule, the Titans were 4-4 overall, 2-2 in league heading into Tuesday’s match with Rogers and this weekend’s annual Crossover Tournament.
That includes losses to the two teams picked to battle for the league crown – a three-game loss to Gonzaga Prep and a four-game loss to Mead.
“Those are tough losses, no doubt,” Schlect said. “Mead is a powerhouse this year and Prep is a very good team. The thing about the GSL is that every team wants to win every game.
“What we have to do, what we’re trying very hard to do, is to take things one day at a time, one game at a time. We have to put all our concentration into making every play, every day. We have to put losses like that behind us and get back to work.
“We just need to go out and play every game like we know how to play. We played two incredible teams in the GSL. We lost to them, yes, but they’re really good and we can learn from those matches and use that as we go into the next match.”
Schlect is doing her part, stepping up with 10 kills and three blocks against the Bullpups and collecting four more blocks against the Panthers.
Schlect is a big-game player. Against Chiawana in last year’s regional tournament, for example, she torched the Riverhawks with 20 kills and six blocks in a three-game sweep
In volleyball there is an extra emphasis on playing club volleyball. The club season is where players get lots of playing time and where college coaches show up looking to fill roster spots with young recruits.
“Our club team went back to play in the national tournament in Indianapolis,” Schlect said. “That was a lot of fun – there are so many teams there and it is so much fun to play them. You definitely see teams that are bigger and faster and stronger and it’s good to test yourself against them.”
And as a high school junior with a burning desire to play college volleyball, it’s a great place to make an impression on college scouts.
“The college coaches definitely come out for the big tournaments,” she said. “I’ve made some contacts and I’m getting some ideas on where I want to go and where I want to make visits.”
Schlect said she makes it a point to see local college volleyball teams in action – traveling to Pullman to take in Washington State’s three-game sweep of Cal and catching games at Eastern Washington whenever possible.
“It’s amazing to watch games in person,” she said. “The college game is definitely at another level. It’s a faster game, a stronger game. I love watching the way the hitters and defenders set themselves. I like watching the hitters’ arm swings – they read the ball so well.”
One of the big things Schlect sees at the next level – something you can really see in person – is the communication successful teams have on the court.
“That’s something we talk about a lot – making sure we’re talking to each other on the court,” she said. “But here’s the interesting thing. When we’re talking, we end up having that much more fun. Communication just helps drive the fun level up.”
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