South Whidbey High School head coach Mandy Jones likes things loud on the volleyball court. In a similar fashion as the Seattle Seahawks’ volume gauge for crowd noise at CenturyLink Field, Jones records an “effort meter” every 20 minutes. The idea is that players can see the peaks and valleys in their effort more clearly. By reducing the amount of downtime in this area, Jones believes the Falcons can turn the tables on the tougher teams in the Cascade Conference.
“I just think it’s good for the girls to have a visual to see where their effort is,” Jones said. “We have control over two things: Effort and communication.”
“Our effort level and pretty much everything that goes into it has pretty much been a roller coaster, so I’m trying to get them to see where they are at, build off of it, work harder if they need to. I think visuals are more effective than me telling them all the time.”
After going two-and-out in the district tournament last season, the Falcons hope to get over the proverbial hump this year. They will do so with a mix of veterans and first-year starters when they open the season on Tuesday, Sept. 6 at Bellevue Christian. One of the veterans, senior Kacie Hanson, said serving and other fundamentals have been the focus early in the preseason.
Communication on the court will also be another focal point. Hanson said the team lacked communication at times last season, and that strong voices on the court has been a deciding factor in matches against better teams.
“We’re really trying to emphasize that this year,” Hanson said. “We play better when we have crazy communication.”
“When we’re on the same page, it makes it that much easier,” added senior middle blocker Megan Drake.
Not only will strong communication between the libero, setter and other players lead to more unified play, it also keeps the players spirits up, Drake said. Drake said filling the positions of vacated seniors like Sara Bryant and Katherine Read hasn’t been tough either. She said sophomore libero Angelina Wilson has effectively filled the shoes of Bryant, who was first-team all-league in 2015.
“She’s definitely stepped up to fill that role,” Drake said. “That’s going to help us immensely this year.”
Wilson played junior varsity as a freshman. She said last year was more about fun and learning from older players. Now, things are more serious.
“I’m excited because all my friends are coming to watch,” Wilson said. “They came to watch last year but it’s not the same.”
Wilson said among the few things she learned from Bryant last year was her strong vocal cords and the impact that had on the team. She’s also picked up a few nuances here and there from veterans like Drake and Hanson and that playing with them has improved her game.
“I like playing with them a lot,” Wilson said. “It makes me a lot better.”
Hanson added that another player, junior Bailey Todd, has also performed well as a setter. She replaced another graduate and first-team all-conference senior from 2015, Katherine Read. Megan Miller will also be another player to keep an eye on, Hanson said.
Leading the attack for the Falcons will be players like Hanson, junior Kolby Heggenes and sophomore Emma Leggett. Defensively, the Falcons will rely on Wilson, senior Lauren Damerau and Leggett. The Falcons will also have a new look on defense. After studying statistics of where opposing teams frequently attack, the Falcons identified the back corner as being the most heavily targeted area. In an attempt to thwart teams’ efforts to attack where they’re most vulnerable, the Falcons’ left back and libero will switch positions when they’re in the back row.
“It’s basically to combat really strong outside hitters which seem to be really common,” Drake said. “Most of the balls are going to that back corner.
Drake and Hanson said opposing juggernauts – King’s, Cedar Park Christian and Archbishop Murphy – will be as strong as ever. Cedar Park Christian and Archbishop Murphy even have athletes that committed to Division I programs that the Falcons will have to spar with. The thought of facing them, however, doesn’t faze Hanson or Drake. They’re eager to prove their worth.
“Our league is not going to be easy,” Hanson said. “It never really is. It’s good competition though.”