Team's uncertainty offers optimism for new season

About 70 girls will vie for varsity roster spots

Posted: Thursday, August 21, 2008

The future is just up ahead, but around every corner the scene changes for the 2008 Juneau-Douglas High School volleyball squad.

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Brian Wallace / The Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / The Juneau Empire

With only one senior and two juniors returning from last year's varsity team, the coaches and players wonder how this season's team will perform against regional and conference opponents.

Two small problems face the Crimson Bears volleyball team. One is their size, which could be a big problem, and the other hurdle is the experience level of the girls.

Head coach Sandi Wagner was blunt about the situation.

"We are short. This is going to be a new experience for us," she said. "Whereas we were semi-short last year, we are really short this year and so we are going to learn to play a little bit different game then we have in the past. We're short but we're fast and that has an impact on the way we will play against six-footers."

Learning to play the game of volleyball by a different approach is a concept the entire team is trying to become accustomed to. Besides having a team composed of short players, the majority of the girls are sophomores and freshman. The players' youth is another dichotomy; this season, accomplishments on the court may be in question, but the future for JDHS volleyball is still looking bright as ever.

Except for last years returning players, senior Kristie Ely and junior Rachael Peyton as middle hitters and junior center Krista Barril, the rest of the team is young. But even with the girls' inexperience Wagner likes what she is seeing so far.

Wagner said the team has learned a lot in a couple of weeks and she believes development will continue as the seasonapproaches. The experienced players are doing their part to help mentor the up-and-comers.

"So many of the girls have the ability to be amazing and it is our job to help push them to be able to do it," Ely said. "Encouragement is the one thing we can do. I can't coach them, that is not my place, but our team is really big on encouragement - giving a lot of praise, high fives and telling them that they are doing great."

The Crimson Bears coaching staff, which includes Pat Gorman, Dale Bontrager, and Wagner, have worked together for a long time. The three coaches run their program a little bit differently than other programs. The trio does not coach just individuals but instead coaches everyone as a team.

With a policy of not making cuts, 93 girls finished the 2007 season. This year 70 girls have joined the team so far and a few more may trickle in after summer vacation ends.

"No matter what level you are at, you can always improve and I am definitely still in the improving block," Ely said. "Basically, players must get the basics techniques and then critique it so much that they are near perfection, and every time it's done in a game, it is just natural instinct to do it correct."

Yet it is rare to attain perfection, so the coaches refrain from cutting players off the team in order to offer everyone the opportunity to enjoy the sport.

"I love it that they don't do any cuts because it gives everybody a chance to play and get to know each other," Peyton said. "I hadn't really played the game until high school, and the coaches really give people a chance to enjoy playing volleyball for a long time."

Wagner explained that volleyball is a sport where kids do not grow up learning the skills required to play at an early age. Little kids learn how to throw, catch and kick - not dig, set or spike. JDHS coaches often must teach from scratch.

The middle school volleyball game is entirely different from the power volleyball played in high school. Wagner said that doesn't mean the middle school did not produce good athletes. The style of play is just different.

"This is a higher level of play and there is a lot more things to concentrate on," Peyton said. "In middle school, you can just play for fun but when the level goes up you really need to concentrate on the fundamentals."

In turn, the team is spending a lot of time on their individual skills right now, getting technique down and preparing to move forward from there.

The 2008 Bears will bring experience to their lineup with their middle hitters, Ely and Payton. As Barril will commandeer the center, the Bears expect exciting players like sophomore setters Megan Hart and Kalia Chapman to put in good time on the court. Still, there are no predictions about how Juneau will match up against opponents this season.

"It is really hard to say what is going to happen until we actually see other teams from the conference," Wagner said. "There have been years where I did not think we were going to be strong and nobody else was very strong either. Then in other years I was like, 'Wow, this is the best team we have ever had,' but the other teams were the same way."

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