Evan Thompson / The Record — South Whidbey junior outside hitter Emma Leggett spikes a ball during practice.

Falcon volleyball aims to win division | FALL SPORTS PREVIEW

South Whidbey volleyball notched a major accomplishment on its belt last year when it advanced to the state championships for the second time in four years.

They’ve set their sights on not only qualifying for state again but taking the Cascade Conference by storm. The Falcons aim to win the class 1A division of the league over opponents King’s, Cedar Park Christian and Sultan, while also giving class 2A juggernaut Archbishop Murphy a run for its money.

Though it’s easy to think ahead, head coach Mandy Jones said she wants the team to move through the season as methodically as possible.

“We just have to take it day by day, match by match and work hard,” Jones said.

The Falcons have had an uphill climb in the preseason due to a sparse turnout over the summer. To make up for lost ground, Jones has been hammering home the fundamentals of the sport, from jump setting to passing drills

“I’m just trying to get as many reps in as possible because there wasn’t a great turnout over the summer, which was disheartening,” Jones said. “So, we’re doing two-a-days, which means practice in the morning and evening.”

Senior outside hitter Kolby Heggenes said she shares Jones’ perspective of taking things day by day and has measured the Falcons’ progress by statistics kept by Jones on a daily basis. The stats come from the team’s daily drills and shine light on the Falcons’ passing, setting and serving averages. It helps identify shortcomings while also determining the starting lineup without bias.

“I have a pretty good idea, but it’s nice to have it written out so everybody can see it,” Jones said. “It eliminates a lot of drama and unnecessary attitudes.”

Junior outside hitter Emma Leggett said team chemistry is strong despite it being early in the season. She said many of the players have played on the same club teams over the past five years, which has helped the Falcons hit the ground running.

“We’re really close already,” Leggett said. “I honestly feel like volleyball is a lot of trust. By playing together as long as long as we have, I trust almost all the girls out there. It’s a nice feeling. That’s what I think can bring a team close and help make you go further.”

The Falcons lost two offensive stars to graduation in Kacie Hanson and Megan Drake, both of whom will be tough to replace, Jones said.

“They were good in almost any position,” Leggett said. “We’re definitely going to have girls that need to step up and fulfill their spots and help the team in weaker areas.”

Leggett and Heggenes said junior setter Chloe Johnson and junior libero Angelina Wilson could be the ones to step up. Jones also added that senior Sophia Nielsen will play a pivotal role in stopping opposing offenses as a “defensive specialist”

Losing Drake also presents a problem at the middle hitter position. The Falcons have only one player at the position, senior Megan Miller, who will be needed to help set up offensive attacks while turning back their opponents with blocks. Jones considered moving Heggenes to middle hitter to help Miller, but her prowess as an outside hitter is too valuable, she said.

“Megan Miller has to step it up — she doesn’t have a choice,” Jones said. “…The middle position is going to be a tough one to fill.”

The Falcons open the season against Bellevue Christian at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 5.