Pats volleyball has those stepping up

Photo by Corey Stolzenbach/The Herald
Senior setter Claire Heeke of Heritage Hills (center) celebrates a point during volleyball practice on Friday. The Patriots went out and took care of business Saturday against Evansville Harrison.


LINCOLN CITY - It was all well and good for Heritage Hills volleyball Saturday.

The Patriots (1-0) lost their first set to Evansville Harrison, 16-25, in their season opener at home. Yet, they bounced back to take the next three sets, 25-19, 25-21 and 25-13.

Other local teams in the area are starting their years by playing within their conference, but the Pats played Evansville Harrison Saturday and are going to play Evansville Bosse Monday on the road before opening Pocket Athletic Conference play on Thursday at Princeton.

"I think it's going to get the young ones the nerves out," Pats coach Kayla White said of playing Evansville schools before conference. "I think it's going to give them some time to get used to, 'Here's what warmup looks like, here's what it feels like to hit for seven-and-a-half minutes. Here's what it feels like to have your name called out - all the jitters coming on and then when it gets to be games that count that are going to do something in the postseason, then we're ready."

Heritage Hills graduated some players like Rebekah Gordon and Lilly Vance. White named who is filling some of those spots, like senior Claire Lange, who is filling Vance's role on the outside and freshman Savannah Gogel is taking Gordon's middle position. White also mentioned Lange and Gogel being the team's hardest swingers.

Shelby Skelton had been a very integral role for the Pats, but she opted not to come out for her senior season in 2021.

"Shelby led us in digs, but our libero (junior Olivia Susnjara) was a very, very close second last year, so she's going to get more touches," White said. "...That one we're not super-worried, and then a sophomore, Ashley Tapley, who's the other DS, she's very solid. Her and Olivia work well together, and so we're kind of hoping that that just fills that void in the back row.

"And then we have Claire Lange and (junior Emily Yates, a transfer from Tecumseh) and junior Lanae Canen trying to fill in that front row position," she continued. "We have some people who are working hard who are trying to fill in that gap. They realize that it was a big loss, but it's realize it's a chance for them to step up."

White sees the team's kills rotating between hitters, while the team's two middles, Gogel and sophomore Allie Wetzel, will be fighting to get a lot of blocks for the Pats.

She also took the time to praise some of her seniors. Emma Haefling may not be the team's hardest hitter, but White hailed her as the hardest worker, and also the loudest. Claire Heeke is the team's setter, and White believes she's gotten more confident and is used to calling plays.

White knows there will be some tough PAC teams in Washington, Princeton and North Posey, but she believes Heritage Hills will hold its own.

Heritage Hills has won six sectional championships, but its last four championships have come in sevens - 1996, 2003, 2010 and 2017. The Pats would like to break that trend and win another sectional sooner. They're set to host sectional this year, and White thinks that will be a really fun time.

"All they want to do is hang out and they want to talk and they won't leave the gym," White said. "I can't ever end practice at 5:30 because they want to stay and finish games, they want to stay and hang out. And so, the chemistry is very, very good this year, and so they want it for each other."

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