Sports

FALL SPORTS PREVIEW: At the net, Falcons are rising

Taking a set from fellow senior Brianna Hussey, Liz Norris, one of the Falcon
Taking a set from fellow senior Brianna Hussey, Liz Norris, one of the Falcon's top blockers last season, practices her killing technique in pre-season practice.Getting into the finer points of defense and offense early this season is of paramount importance, since the Falcons -- with an all-senior starting lineup -- have a major advantage over the rest of the North Cascade Conference teams in terms of experience. Falcon coach Tim Durbin said his players came into the season in shape to compete immediately.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

It's been a long time since a South Whidbey volleyball team has seemed so together.

The six seniors who make up the Falcon varsity starting lineup this season look, somehow, like they belong on the same side of the net more than any other recent team. They're tall, with most over 5 feet, 9 inches, and coordinated in how they play the ball. Having played together through most of their four years in the high school program -- only outside hitter Katy McGillen and setter Brianna Hussey moved up to the varsity team ahead of their senior classmates -- they hardly ever yell out "Mine! Mine! Mine!" on an incoming serve: They know who is going to get it.

"Togetherness will lead us wherever we want to go," said Hussey during a recent preseason practice. "We know what each other can do."

So where do they want to go? After being aced out of the state tournament for the past four years, the Falcons want to go back to Yakima this year to prove that the team's dominance there throughout the 1990s was not a fluke.

This is not to say the team has been unsuccessful in recent years. In 2001, the Falcons were 8-6 overall, and 14-13 in 2002. But at 4-4 both years in the North Cascades Conference, the varsity teammates and their coach, Tim Durbin, agree there is room for improvement. A top-three finish in the NCC and a credible march through this season's district tournament is the expectation between the players and their coach.

"We'll be right there," Durbin said.

But it won't be easy. Lynden Christian, the NCC champion in 2002, placed fourth at the state 2A meet last year. Other NCC teams were close behind, with Meridian taking fifth and Nooksack Valley seventh.

To get to where those teams have been, the Falcons have been doing as much off-season practice as possible. Though most of the players on the starting lineup spend the months between November and August participating in other sports, they did get together for club play through last winter's basketball season, and played regularly at open gyms throughout the summer. Durbin said the payoff has been a team that needs little conditioning in the preseason.

"They're in good shape," he said.

While the team lost Lucy Daumen, Jenny Murphy, Mary Murphy and Julie Robinson to graduation, all the holes in the lineup were easily filled. Hussey, a .316 killer last season on top of her team-leading 313 assists, will do setting duties for the third year in a row. Bronwyn Russell is back at the right side hitting position, while Liz Norris and Jordan Tobler do middle hitting duties. McGillen, who led the team with 29 blocks last year, will be an outside hitter with Nici Eaton, the teams leading ace server.

Up from last years junior varsity team to give the Falcon varsity a bench are Amy Brown, Sara Hezel and Chelsea Miller.

If the Falcons do make it to state, it will be their first trip in Durbin's four years as head coach. It will take a combination of wins against the top teams in the NCC, and near-perfect play against the more mortal teams in the conference -- Sultan, Granite Falls, Blaine, Mount Baker and Lakewood.

And, said Liz Norris, staying healthy is a must.

"We're all healthy," she said. "No turned ankles yet."

The Falcons start their season Tuesday with a road game against Edmonds-Woodway. They open their home season on Wednesday in Erikson Gymnasium against Kings.

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