South Whidbey hope to close gap in tough league

Junior middle hitter Megan Drake waits looks for an incoming serve during Monday’s practice. Drake gained high praise from Jones for her natural athleticism.

Whether it proves to be positive or detrimental, South Whidbey girl’s volleyball’s biggest concerns heading into the season appear to be things out of their control.

Taller players and increased depth on the roster are not something the Falcons are going to wake up and possess when they open the season on Sept. 8 against Coupeville.

But, a lack thereof can have its benefits, too.

“I think it’s just less stress for them,” said Falcons’ head coach Mandy Jones. “They get to be them. They get to play competitively, they get to talk and communicate and have fun with their team and not worry about all the things that are out of their control.”

Height has never been something the Falcons rely on, junior middle hitter Megan Drake said. Instead, they turn their focus to what will ultimately be a deciding factor for the Falcons — defense.

“They always say that defense wins championships,” Drake said. “Hopefully that will help us.”

The Falcons have already implemented two of their primary defenses — “read” and “man-up” — a week into the start of fall practice. The object of the two plays is to better help the Falcons adapt to bigger-sized teams and hitters.

“Defense is what we talked about today,” said junior Kacie Hanson. “We have a little bit quicker of a defense, we think, than last year. We don’t really know yet because we haven’t had a game, but we feel a little more on our toes.”

After reaching the Class 1A state volleyball tournament in 2013, the Falcons endured what head coach Mandy Jones described as a “roller coaster” of a year last season.

They also lost two starting outside hitters and vocal leaders, Anne Madsen and Abby Hodson, to graduation. The Falcons are currently rotating five players at the position with the hopes of narrowing it down to two starters.

Finding those pieces that will make up the puzzle has been on Jones’ mind.

“We’re kind of figuring out right now who’s going to be that strong outside hitter,” Jones said. “But I’ve got some girls that are stepping up and will fill their shoes pretty nicely.”

“I’m taking this week to evaluate and to do that,” she added.

While starters on the outside are being worked out, the Falcons have practiced twice a day in preparation for the season start. Juggernauts King’s and Cedar Park Christian, who finished second- and third-place at the state tournament in 2014, will look to lead the Cascade Conference, followed close behind by Archbishop Murphy.

South Whidbey, which finished fifth in league last season, hopes to close the gap.

“We didn’t make it as far as we expected to make it, so that was a bummer, especially for the seniors because that was their last year,” Drake said. “I kind of felt like I let them down. We just need to make sure we’re working hard all year so when it comes to the postseason, we’re ready take it head on.”

Drake said that many of the top players in the league from a year ago are returning. But, that’s just another thing they can’t control. What they can control are their serves, passing, and ball control, which Jones said is progressing very nicely.

“I think at the rate we’re going, we’re right on track with where we need to be,” Jones said. “Everything is progressing in numbers as far as averages and ball control, so I’m feeling pretty confident.”