Until this past Tuesday (Feb. 23), the fate of many local schools’ volleyball seasons hung in the balance as the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) and state agencies decided on the latest county risk assessments. As of this past week, Lane County was designated as “high” risk, moving it out of the “extreme” category. Under the new designation and current state guidance, indoor volleyball is only allowed in counties that are assigned a high-risk level or lower.
With Tuesday’s announcement that Lane County has officially moved into high-risk, both Siuslaw High School and Mapleton High School finally know they will be allowed to play their season as planned.
The Lady Vikings have had limited opportunity to practice up to this point. As coach Ashlee Cole explained, “Practice started on Monday (Feb. 22), and right now we're doing some group work because we can only have six people [indoors], for 45 minutes. It's a little rough to work with, and it's different than normal years, but we're just trying to work through it and teach the most that we can with the small amount of time that we have.”
Because the school was technically still considered to be in an ‘extreme-risk’ county pending yesterday’s (Feb. 26) movement day, the team could not practice as a whole group until then.
“Friday, we were able to practice as a whole group for the first time, which was good. That's what we need,” said Cole. “It's going to be a hard season with only five practices before our first game. We're going to work it out, but it's going to be difficult.
Cole sad the team faces other challenges over the next six weeks of play, but that most of the teams in league are in the same. “So, we're all kind of on the same playing field, which is good. We're going to use every minute of every practice we can get just to try to dial everything in to where we want it,” said Cole.
The Viks have a solid group of 15 players on the squad this year, but this year’s roster is young, with only one senior and three juniors. Despite the team’s youth, Cole said it’s a team in which she sees a lot of potential.
“I'm looking forward to actually putting that putting that to test,” Cole said.
Since the team is younger, and practices have been restricted to small numbers indoors, Cole has been taking the time to work on fundamentals.
“We're more working on certain aspects of the game rather than putting it in more of a play style game,” Cole explained. “We're doing a lot of defensive work as groups, and we're just now starting to get into a full court of six, and actually putting it all together and working on the certain defenses and offenses and all of that.
“It's a little bit challenging with some of the girls that aren't as experienced yet. You can't really just jump right into three-on-three or anything like that, so we're trying to work through that.”
Cole noted that several of her players are showing great promise for the season. Among them, front row players Kya Blake and Desiree Tupua — each of whom have played some club volleyball during their downtime, “So they’ve still been in it a little bit more than some of the other girls,” said Cole.
Leading Siuslaw’s setting will be Zoe Alberty, with Hayden Muller back in the libero spot. “She's pretty amazing back there,” Cole said of Muller.
At Mapleton High School, coach Molly Dooley has been fortunate enough to utilize an outdoor net, so the team has been able to practice as a whole group despite the fact that they have been an extreme-risk county.
“We have been practicing outside, and we're really lucky that we were able to get an outdoor net, which has been really great for us,” said Dooley. “We're able to get in some drills that involve the net and work through all of the plays and rotations to make sure that we're on point with that.”
Dooley said one unfortunate part of the new guidelines will be the shortened season (six weeks total), which gives them just one week of solid indoor practice before squaring up against their first opponent on March 11 at Siletz High School. “So, it's really important to start getting our rotations going so once we're in the gym, we can get it going full force,” Dooley said.
Although there are limits to practicing volleyball outdoors, Dooley said she is just grateful to be able to get her team working out as a group again.
“At first we were just doing a lot of conditioning, because the last time they had a practice or a sports season was last year in February with basketball,” Dooley said. “And then we had one week of track. The most important part to begin with was to get them back to doing physical activity — especially in a group setting. So, we're really fortunate that we were able to be outside and get some running in, some jumping, some push-ups and sit-ups.”
The Lady Sailors will have nine players on this season’s roster, comprised mostly of seniors and juniors. The team’s maturity is a feature Dooley is looking forward to seeing play out on the court.
“We have three seniors this year,” said Dooley. “Emily Stevens has been on the team for four years now. Her hitting has been great recently in practice. She's really starting to control her power, and she’s getting [the ball] to the spots that we want it to be.”
Another senior for the Sailors is Briena Jensen, now in her third year with the team after playing for Triangle Lake as a freshman her first year. The team’s third senior is Heather Wierichs, who is in her second year at Mapleton after transferring from Willamette High School as a sophomore.
“So, what I'm really looking for with them is they're going to be bringing in experience and leadership, which I'm really excited to see,” Dooley said of the team’s senior trio.
Dooley noted the promise of the four juniors on her team as well, which includes Brier Shird, Opal Burruss, Summer Flansberg and Jahala Blake. “The last time they were in a sport, they were underclassmen, this is going to be their first sport where they're the upperclassmen. Said Dooley. “I'm really interested to see what leadership skills developed in this time — especially because I haven't seen them playing in a sport for almost a year now.
“I've been seeing all this improvement where they've gone from being a younger player to being this more experienced upper classman, which is just cool to see.”
Rounding out the roster are two players who are both new to the game: freshman Kylee Carson and senior Jadah Harper. “This will be both girls’ first year playing,” said Dooley. “But they're already making huge improvements, which is great to see. “It's really fun to see this new team dynamic that is happening.”
As far as gameplay, Dooley anticipates growing strength on offense with her front row. Aside from senior Emily Stevens, the juniors on the team are showing improvements already.
“I’m excited to see what power our hitters are going to have,” said Dooley. “Our juniors coming up. Before, they've been a little bit more hesitant with the hitting. [Now,] they're getting so much more confident with getting it down, and it's good to see.”
Siuslaw and Mapleton are clearly eager to play the season and get back to the court.
Siuslaw High School plays its first game Tuesday, March 2, at home against Marist Catholic High School. First serve goes up at 6:45 p.m. Mapleton High School’s first game is Tuesday, March 9, when the Sailors host Siletz High School beginning at 6 p.m.
Due to current guidelines — as with all sporting events this season —no spectators are allowed to attend.