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Senior-laden volleyball squad sets vision on district, state | FALCON SPORTS PREVIEW

Brittany Wood passes during drills recently. The all-conference libero is expecting more success from the Falcons this season after an early exit from the district playoffs last season. Wood set several school records last year including most digs in a match, most digs in a season and most pass attempts, on top of her team-leading 36 aces.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Brittany Wood passes during drills recently. The all-conference libero is expecting more success from the Falcons this season after an early exit from the district playoffs last season. Wood set several school records last year including most digs in a match, most digs in a season and most pass attempts, on top of her team-leading 36 aces.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Working seven seniors into a volleyball rotation is a coach’s dream.

Experience, talent and leadership are abundant. Playing time, however, is not.

“The plus side with seven seniors is that they’ve been playing together the last six years,” said South Whidbey head coach Mandy Jones. “The negative side is there are other starters, as well, and making sure seniors get their playing time without taking away from anybody else.”

Less than a week away from the first game, Jones still hasn’t finalized her starting six. Today, she said she will have the best opportunity to evaluate her 10 varsity girls to see which mix best works. The Falcons play in a jamboree Sept. 3 at Oak Harbor High School.

Nine of the 10 girls listed for varsity played significant minutes last season. But no two saw more court time than all-Cascade Conference seniors Brittany Wood and Linden Firethorne.

“Pretty much the whole team is seniors,” said Wood, an all-conference libero.

After spending previous seasons behind a cadre of talented upperclassmen, Firethorne relishes the chance to guide the team to success.

“Now we’re finally the leaders,” said Firethorne, an all-conference middle hitter.

Loaded with experience and league-leading talent, the team set its sights on the district and state volleyball tournaments. During practices and drills, Jones said she frequently tells (not yells) her players two things: “vision” and “play hard or sit down.”

She needs passion from her team, which she said she already knows is skilled enough to achieve its goal of reaching the state tournament.

The backcourt led by Wood was one of the best defenses in the conference — as noticed by Wood’s selection to the second team all-conference.

On long rallies, Wood, Justina Mackie-Timmermann and the backcourt defenders would chase after errant hits: diving, sliding, sprinting and saving all-but-sure points.

“We are really scrappy,” Wood said. “We’re always ready to cover each other.”

With many of the backcourt players still on the team, Jones is ready to develop her frontcourt and win points at the net through blocks.

“The front line is going to be our main defense,” Jones said.

Her front court is taller, too. To replace graduated hitter Kelsey Taylor, Jones plans to rotate in first-year volleyball players Jessica Manca, a senior, and Hayley Newman, a junior.

“We gained a lot of height this year,” Wood said. “So blocking we’ll probably be better, especially on the right side.”

The right-side blockers are crucial to limiting the opponent’s best right outside hitter. Manca and Newman, along with Grace Monte-Calvo and Hannah Calderwood, will help relieve the pressure from Firethorne.

“They help because they’re both pretty tall,” Firethorne said of newcomers Manca and Newman. “It’s good to have a tall right side. I think together we will all be pretty solid.”

Emily Houck split time as the setter last season with Alissa Coupe who graduated in June. Now as the senior and most experienced setter, Houck is in charge of leading the offense and getting the ball into the outside hitter’s whip-action arms.

Coupe was also a team co-captain last season, which Jones has not decided on for the current team. Positive leadership, a common phrase calmly uttered by Jones during tryouts and practices, is the number-one attribute she sought from her seniors.

Wood and Firethorne both said they want to demonstrate that quality.

“I want to shine more as a leader,” Firethorne said. “I’m kind of a quiet person, but I want to be one of the main leaders of the team this year.”

In one undeniable way she led last year. She has the record for most kills in a match, 28, against Lakewood. The record for most kills in a season also belongs to Firethorne, 251.

And the offensive power for South Whidbey — Firethorne.

But this season, she won’t have to bear the burden alone.

Molly Rawls, an outside hitter, is also a senior with lots of varsity playing time. She played opposite of Firethorne last season. This meant the best defenders were pulled to block her, leaving Rawls open on the other side — a tactic Jones may utilize this season.

Before the season begins, she still has to decide on her starting six. To help Jones determine the starters, she has charted every hit during scrimmages.

“That way I have it on paper and everyone can see why they’re playing or why they’re not playing,” Jones said.

Facing Archbishop Murphy is the game the team’s veterans and coach are most excited about, even though they expect it to be the most difficult series.

The marquee match will be the first meeting with Lakewood, which is before the games against King’s School and Archbishop Murphy. Jones said that game will give her a good gauge of the Falcons’ strengths and weaknesses, and allow her time to adjust them prior to facing the top two teams.

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