Pats look to follow up from nice 2019 volleyball seasonAugust 6, 2020
By COREY STOLZENBACH
LINCOLN CITY — Heritage Hills had an all-around solid outing on the volleyball court in 2019. The Patriots went 21-11, won the Pocket Athletic Conference and made it to the sectional championship — getting swept, albeit all three sets were close, against an Evansville Memorial team that went to state.
This year, Pats coach Kayla White likes what she has, but she also knows anything can happen.
“I feel confident that we can do good things this year,” White said. “You never know how it’s going to turn out in postseason. I’m not going to say, ‘We’re going to state,’ or whatever, but I know that we could do big things. We could pull some tough games out against really good teams.”
Leading the way among returning players for Heritage Hills this year is junior Shelby “Bones” Skelton. Skelton earned All-PAC honors in 2019, and White told The Herald that the team relied heavily on Skelton when she was an underclassman, and put a lot of pressure on her.
White knows how essential Skelton is to the team, as she’s going to be a third-year starter for the Pats. Skelton is on the court at all times, and now, White is trying to get her all-conference junior to be a leader for Heritage Hills.
“She literally does everything,” she said. “Now, we just need her to be vocal and to lead the underclassmen or to work with the setters — just open her mouth a little bit. She’s a great kid, she has a great head on her shoulders, she stays calm in all scenarios. We’re just trying to get her to just talk a little bit more, and to take on that leader role because she’s got the most on court experience right now."
The other starters the Pats are returning are seniors Rebekah Gordon, Nevah Barnett and Lilly Vance. Vance missed last year due to a back injury, but she started two years ago, and will be returning to action this year.
However, Heritage Hills will be without graduated setter Hannah Marchand, and also without the graduated Hannah Schnuck, who joined Skelton as an All-PAC selection in 2019. Schnuck served as a defensive specialist and libero for the Pats in 2019.
White told The Herald that the team still doesn't have a set candidate for the libero position, but added it isn’t dire, since players like Skelton, Gordon and Vance can play all-around. Her candidates to take over as defensive specialist include juniors Claire Heeke and Claire Lange, and sophomore Avery Vinson. Heeke, Barnett and Vinson will be the team's setters.
“They each have their thing that they’re really good at,” White said. “So, we’re going to try to hone in and see what’s happening with that.”
There are a lot of other things that White likes about her team. Conditioning isn’t a problem, and she knows she’s confident in her players who can pass and also generate points in the front row. Skelton, Gordon, Barnett and Vance are some, but not all of the Pats that White said swing hard.
“We have another senior, Liz Mehling, who’s trying to fight for a middle position. She’s got a pretty good swing; she does well,” she said. “Claire Lange is coming out of nowhere, and she’s swinging pretty hard. So, we’re liking that as well. We have a lot of good arms coming in.”
Heritage Hills spent the rest of July focusing on fundamentals, as White has been spending a lot of time with her players individually on what they need to fix. This week has had and will have a big emphasis on teamwork and team drills, and the Pats will focus on rotations and game-like situations the week before the Aug. 15 opener against Evansville Harrison.
The coach believes level-headedness will be the key to starting the season off on the right foot.
“It’s got to be where we’re controlled, we’re level-headed and we’re confident in our skills,” White said. “I think we’ve just got to execute. I think if we just stay level-headed and we execute, don’t freak out, don’t get too goofy. Sometimes, girls, when they get excited and they get goofy, and it just gets crazy ball — we just got to stay clean.”
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