The Philomath High School volleyball team heads into the season with high hopes behind a varsity roster filled with experience, including several seniors. Familiar sights out of the eldest class will be Sage Kramer and Ashlynn Barron hitting hard at the net, Laura Noble and Reagan Larson setting them up and Taylor Roe digging on serves and spikes.
“We have a lot of returners, a lot of experience and they’re pretty excited and goal driven, so our practices have been super focused on stuff they need to get better at,” PHS coach Denee Newton said last week after the team had competed in a jamboree at Sweet Home.
In addition to those mentioned, Mackenzie Hiner and Lori Galvan are also back in a varsity uniform. An eighth senior, Lily Hull, appears on the roster and will also see time with the JV as a swing player.
Junior Abigail Brown and sophomores Ahnika Tryon and Clara Stanley earned spots on the varsity as well.
Although Newton loves the number of athletes in the program, she knows there is a “skill divide” between the top 10 players and those with less experience. That situation does impact the ability to prepare for opponents — and as usual, the Warriors will play a very tough schedule.
“I like to pull up kids to do 6-on-6, typically I do that, but this year we’re not because there’s just a really black-and-white skill line divide after 10 so we’re doing more 5-on-5 this year,” Newton said. “I’ve invited a couple of alumni kiddos to scrimmage with them a bit just to try to get some people who can hit hard at them … that’s been fun.”
Overall, Newton is pleased with the roster numbers heading into the season, including nine student athletes from the freshman class.
“I was really happy just because our numbers were down and I wasn’t sure how it was going to go,” said Newton, adding that the program’s Gold Medal Camp late this summer was a success.
The Warriors participated last week in a jamboree at Sweet Home for their first action against other opponents. Philomath won three of its four practice matches.
“The energy is great but I think our big thing will be working on our serve receive and figuring out how to be aggressive all of the time on offense,” Newton said. “We were just really experimenting because we have about four different lineup variations — we haven’t quite figured that out yet.”
After the rushed, hectic season from this past spring, the program surely welcomes more of a traditional routine as volleyball begins.
“It’s interesting because it feels kind of normal and then there’s some stuff like — ‘oh, we haven’t seen that in two years’ and ‘we haven’t done this in two years,’” Newton said. “It almost felt like the seniors got sort of their junior year stolen from them. It feels like they came straight out of sophomore year. … But it feels great, it’s hard to explain.”
Newton’s high school team, Crook County, will be Philomath’s season-opening opponent on the road Thursday evening.
“That will be a good game for us to kind of get into the swing of a match with a good opponent that’s always competitive,” Newton said. “I’m excited to get over there and play them. And they run the same system … we know their defense, we know what their weaknesses will be because of that so it’s fun to play those opponents.”
The matchup against the 5A Prineville school, ranked No. 5 in a preseason coaches poll, is just the beginning of a challenging schedule for the Warriors. That’s the way Newton likes it.
“We’ve just tried to build ourselves a tough schedule,” she said. “It’s taken three years but we got into that Clearwater Classic — that’s a big 6A tournament (Oct. 9) in Bend and it’ll be really fun and really tough. We were excited to get into that, it took us a while.”
Others include the Sisters Tournament on Sept. 18, the State Preview tournament at South Albany on Sept. 25 and the Mt. Hood Invite at Sam Barlow High on Oct. 2.
“All of the tournaments we’re in, except for Sisters, are 6A tournaments,” Newton said. “Sisters is always really tough, but just the top 4A schools are there.”
Philomath is coming off of a tough 1-5-1 record during the short pandemic season but the program does command respect from around the state. Class 4A coaches that participated in a preseason poll organized by OSAAtoday.com ranked Philomath at No. 7. Others out of the Oregon West in the poll include Sisters at No. 2, Sweet Home at No. 3 and Cascade at No. 10.
“I’m pretty confident that these girls are pretty earnest and really smart, so I feel like we’re going to work hard this season and achieve our goals,” Newton said.
As an indoor sport, some may wonder what type of restrictions are in place.
“Right now, the athletes have to have their masks on when they’re not performing,” Newton said. “So far, it’s feeling pretty normal. It feels good … just hoping that we can preserve a full season. I’m hearing that cases are high among teens so we’re just trying to prevent that from happening to us with precautions.”
Charlotte Feige (varsity assistant), Juleia Dooley (JV coach) and London Starley (JV2 coach) return to the program under Newton. Shelly Brown joins the coaching lineup as a volunteer assistant.
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