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Sports >  High school sports

Volleyball preview: Defending 3A state champ Mt. Spokane reloads for shortened season

Everything comes with a caveat these days. That’s what happens when you try to have a semblance of normal during a pandemic.

But with the state allowing high school competition to resume, those directly involved are doing the best they can to get ramped up as quickly as possible.

In the Greater Spokane League, first up is volleyball. The 2A season started on Tuesday with a pair of matches, while two others were postponed by the weather. The 4A/3A schedule kicks off Thursday with a full slate of matches.

Defending State 3A champion Mt. Spokane (19-0, 9-0) graduated three all-league players – including a former state player of the year – and state hall of fame coach Dave Whitehead hung up his whistle.

But unlike any other program in the state, the Wildcats don’t have to rebuild at all.

New head coach Laurie Quigley, daughter of Ferris football coach Tom Yearout and former Lewis and Clark and West Valley volleyball coach Julie Yearout, was a natural choice to take over after four years as Whitehead’s assistant and brings head coaching experience.

The program returns three all-state players – including reigning state 3A player of the year Tia Allen.

“I’m ready to go,” Quigley said. “The girls are ready to go. We’re excited. We’re just hoping we get to play a lot of matches.”

That caveat of current conditions always lingers in the back of everyone’s mind.

Practice started last week under Phase 1, which meant placing players in groups of six to attempt to avoid cross-contamination in case of an outbreak. When Gov. Jay Inslee moved the region into Phase 2 on Thursday, that opened things up to team practices.

“It has been great to get back in the gym with kids and have a chance to play,” Quigley said. “I think we were just in a tough spot that we were in Phase 1 for that first week. Now that we’re in Phase 2, we can practice together, which is really nice. We were all very excited when Phase 2 was announced.”

For a first-year head coach, Quigley is in a familiar situation.

“The nice thing is that it doesn’t really feel new,” she said. “Having a big group of returners always makes the first week go smoothly. We’re really lucky to have those girls back again.

“Our whole thing has just been we are so grateful and excited to be back together because it has been such a big question mark for so long. We’re just trying to take advantage of every day that we get to be together.”

Coaches love to use the axiom, “Play every game like it’s your last.” Never has that been more poignant.

“They’ve now kind of all experienced that, through last spring and COVID and a lot of club stuff shut down midseason,” Quigley said. “I think we’ve all unfortunately lived through that a lot this last year – of having to face the unexpected. Any day we all get to be together is a day that is a good day.”

The Wildcats’ strength this season will be their three returning all-state players: sisters and outside hitters Tia (senior) and Teila (junior) Allen and senior libero Taylor Miche.

While the sisters might not be the most vocal players, their experience and play speak volumes.

“Tia and Teila are definitely lead-by-example kids,” Quigley said. “When you have a pretty big group of returners, they all just kind of know each other well. They’ve played together for so long, which is again really nice, they just all know each other’s personalities.”

Miche is the team’s coach on the floor.

“If you would step into practice, you would hear Taylor more than anyone else,” Quigley joked.

The only work in progress for the Wildcats is in the middle, where they graduated blockers Abby Newcomb and Sophia Bertotti-Metoyer.

“We’ve got some young kids that are coming,” Quigley said. “We will try to play to their strengths as much as we can in a shortened season. … It’s hard to know before we play what that’s really going to look like.”

The other key departure is 2018 state 3A player of the year Lina Ama.

“We definitely will miss our seniors from last year, for sure,” Quigley said. “It’s just hard to know what to expect this year, with the new GSL teams and the new schedule and all of the changes.

“But they have all been playing club as much as they can. The returners came in really excited and really ready to go and try to make the most of this shortened season.”

The shortened season means no district or state championship on the line – places the Wildcats have thrived the past few seasons. Could that be a motivating factor?

“I don’t think so,” Quigley said. “It goes back to the same idea – we can’t control that. There’s nothing we can do to all of the sudden have a state tournament.

“What we can control is that we have seven weeks together and we can get better and we can compete against who we can compete with. We’re just going to make the most of what we get.”

Quigley said there might be some disappointment missing out on a chance to prove things at state, but it’s much better than the alternative.

“That disappointment – when you weight it with the idea that it was, ‘Hey, we get to play together for a couple months or not at all’ – it disappears pretty quickly when we realize there are some sports that may not get a season,” she said.

“To be disappointed that we don’t have state feels very minor compared to the idea of not getting to play at all.”

4A/3A capsules

Central Valley (5-8, 3-6): Fourth-year coach Jason Allen lost five starters to graduation, but all-league honorable mention OH Robyn White (junior) is back, as is senior defensive specialist Julia Andrews.

Cheney (12-9, 7-5): The lone Great Northern League team to move up a level, Blackhawks coach Heather Zorrozua enters her sixth season with five returning letter-winners, including four-year starter and all-league outside hitter Avery Stark. “Being new to the GSL, it will be a learning year,” Zorrozua said. “We don’t know a lot about any of the other teams, so we plan on just being aggressive and playing smart volleyball.”

Ferris (9-8, 6-3): First-year coach Staci Hazelbaker has six letter-winners returning including four seniors – OH Brooklyn Avery, OH Summer Fenton, opposite hitter Holly Mathia and libero Kaiton Meyer.

Gonzaga Prep (8-7, 5-4): Eighth-year coach Jill Benson’s team has six letter-winners returning, led by Clemson-bound middle blocker Jacyn Bamis and a pair of all-league honorable mentions: senior Avery Tee, switching from libero to outside hitter, and junior right-side hitter Bailey Benson.

Lewis and Clark (5-9, 4-5): First-year coach Larissa Welch has two senior letter-winners coming back: setter Katie Kenelin – an all-league pick from last season – and outside hitter Maya Eastlund. “We are working with an almost entirely new group of girls this year and are a very young, growing program,” Welch said. “This year our focus is the development of our young athletes and getting them fundamentally sound for the future of our program.”

Mead (12-5, 7-2): Sixth-year coach Shawn Wilson lost eight to graduation and will bring a young squad to the floor this year. “Our youth is extremely athletic and we have good size but we are obviously lacking varsity experience,” he said. Sisters Jordynn (senior) and Emily (junior) Hutchinson will lead.

Mt. Spokane (19-0): Laurie Quigley takes over for the two-time defending state 3A champs from hall of fame coach Dave Whitehead. Senior OH Tia Allen is the defending state 3A player of the year, while sister Teila Allen (junior) and libero Taylor Miche (senior) were all-state selections.

University (11-5, 7-2): Fourth-year coach Tony Collins saw five starters and nine letter-winners graduate, including four all-league performers. Seniors Shelby Irmer and Eve Chapman will be counted on for leadership.

2A capsules

Clarkston (2-10): First-year coach Marie Huffman has five starters returning. “We have a veteran team with key defensive players and a veteran setter who has great hands,” she said. Senior Alyssa Sangster is headed to Pierce College.

East Valley (10-6, 8-4): Sophomore setter Isabella Kelp will feed junior outside hitter Sidney Joy on most nights for sixth-year coach Chad Coupland, with seniors libero Tyler Smyly and middle blocker Hope Harrington – a returning all-league pick – providing leadership.

North Central (4-8, 3-6): Juniors Brenna Houk and sophomore Kelsie Delp will be integral keys to the Indians, who boast just three seniors.

Othello (6-9, 4-5): The Huskies, coached by Steve Parris, joined the GSL from the Central Washington Athletic Conference this season due to a split in the state’s geographic regions. Outside hitter Ashley Garza, setter Halle Parris and defensive specialist Julissa Cantu – all seniors – are ones to watch.

Pullman (16-4, 12-0): The Greyhounds reached the round of eight at state last season.

Rogers (3-11, 0-9): here

Shadle Park (1-14, 1-8): Coach Brooke Meyer heads into her 21st year at the helm with eight letter-winners back, led by a quartet of juniors in their third year of varsity: outside hitters Chloe Flerchinger and Mae’Saiah Sorokin, setter Teagan Webster and libero Bailee Jones. “In order for us to be successful, we need to be smart and aggressive with the ball on offense and frustrate teams with our defense,” Meyer said.

West Valley (3-13, 1-11): here

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