Philomath High varsity players scrimmage in practice Monday afternoon. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath High School volleyball coach Autumn Hilberg has a problem on her hands as the Warriors get ready to dive into her second season leading the program. But it’s a problem that coaches love to have — depth.

“I think our strength is we’re deep in every position and anyone can come in at any time and compete,” Hilberg said earlier this week as the Warriors prepared for Thursday’s season-opening matches. “We don’t really have a position that we’re weak in. The whole bench is competing every day in practice just as hard and it’ll be game-by-game to see who’s going to start.”

Autumn Hilberg begins her second season leading the PHS volleyball program. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath is coming off a 16-9 season that included a third-place finish in the Oregon West Conference and an appearance in the state playoffs.

“I got to do a lot of things in the offseason that I wish I had the chance to do a year ago,” Hilberg said, adding that the timing of her hire didn’t leave much time to get prepared a year ago. “We got to compete in summer league this year. We played against 1A through 6A schools and everyone who was invited to summer league got to play and got good reps. We also did some open gyms in the summer — let everybody come in.”

Philomath brings back most of its starting lineup although the team did lose a good number of hits, blocks and digs to graduation. Senior Ahnika Tryon, juniors Ashleigh Brown and Madison Provance and sophomore Shaylee May were all-conference picks in 2022.

Plus, senior Clara Stanley, will be back in uniform after missing pretty much all of last season with a torn ACL.

“Clara’s back from her injury this year … we’re really excited to have her leadership,” Hilberg said of the outside hitter. “In my opinion, she could’ve been first-team all-league, maybe even player of the year last year.”

Freshman Nora Stanley — yes, that’s Clara Stanley’s sister — made the varsity roster and could have an immediate impact.

“I think that she will contribute a lot this year,” Hilberg said. “She has a calm confidence that’s valuable to a team, especially in volleyball where there’s a lot of highs and lows, and if you can have someone that’s calm, cool and collected, that always evens out the team.”

Hilberg and assistants Brittani Rebeiz, Kaela Lindsey and Whitney Rasumussen got to evaluate the players in live game action last week with a trip to a jamboree at Sweet Home.

“Everyone got a chance to prove what they have and that was my goal, to get everybody in and let them show me how they can compete,” Hilberg said. “I thought we looked pretty good … we saw some strengths and some weaknesses that we’re working on pretty hard this week.”

Hilberg said tryouts were “really competitive” but said she narrowed it down to 12 on varsity along with two swing players. The 13 other players will play on the two junior varsity squads. Broken down by class among the first 12 on varsity, the Warriors have four seniors, five juniors, two sophomores and a freshman.

Beyond those mentioned, others on the varsity include seniors Madison Juhl and Ava Theurer, juniors Zoee Howard, Hannah Bennett and Kynlee Albin and sophomore Avery Smith. Swing players include juniors Savannah Adams and Kaylie Kohler.

Stanley, Theurer and Tryon were chosen as team captains.

“The team really looks to them for leadership and they embody everything we want to see in a leader,” the coach said.

Philomath will play five nonconference matches before getting into Oregon West play Sept. 19 at home against Cascade, last season’s state runner-up.

Junior Ashleigh Brown was a second-team all-conference player last season. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Warriors open Thursday at Corvallis High School with a doubleheader. First, Philomath will face Class 6A Sprague at 5 p.m. and then follow up against the 5A Spartans.

“I wanted to schedule some high-level 5A, 6A matches preleague,” Hilberg said in reference to Sprague and Corvallis. “Those will be really tough matches and that was my intention — get good competition.”

The following week, the Warriors will make the drive to Junction City to play another doubleheader. Philomath will face Gladstone at 5:45 p.m. before going up against the host Tigers in the nightcap. The home debut will be Sept. 7 against Salem Academy and then 12 days will lapse for that league opener against Cascade.

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.

Leave a comment

Commenting Policy: Full legal name required to comment (no nicknames or usernames); no personal abuse of other writers or content; maximum length of 100 words; no foul language; comments will be reviewed by the editor before appearing online. Click on the "Commenting Policy" link found at the bottom of every page for the full guidelines.