With last year firmly in the rear view mirror, this year's young and relatively inexperienced Forest Grove High School volleyball team is taking a fresh approach to the upcoming season.
First-year head coach Amber Lieb is taking over a program that finished 9-14, seventh in the Greater Valley Conference in 2016, and returns just three seniors from last year's squad. But with an infusion of youth, a new methodology and a positive attitude, the former youth coach and high school volunteer has high hopes heading into the year.
"I think there will be a lot of teams in our league that will be surprised by us this year," said Lieb. "There's going to be a learning curve, but I want them to be proud of the work they've put in. They've responded to coaching and are eager to learn."
Lieb, who has lived in Forest Grove for 17 years, grew up in Colorado, where she played high school volleyball before competing for two years at Mid Plains College in Nebraska. After moving here with her husband, she spent some time working with the Forest Grove volleyball club before volunteering at the high school. After the departure of previous head coach Nicole Miles, she jumped into the head coach slot and is excited about working with this group of Viking girls.
"I just love these girls because they're so eager to learn," said the coach. "They're like little sponges. They want to soak everything up and move on to learning the next thing."
Key returnees include seniors Chloe Kramer, Kinsey Barnett and Emily Huson.
Kramer brings the height, Barnett the skill and adaptability and Huson the court vision and deft touch necessary to manipulate the ball around defenders and into defensive holes.
"Emily amazes me how she's able to see the court and get balls up, over, and around blocks," said Lieb.
Barnett, who's moving from the strong side where she played last year to the middle where her coach needs her most, is adapting to the change and using her athleticism to overcome the positional inexperience.
"It's new for her and presenting some challenges," Lieb said. "But she's rising to the challenge, and she swings at the ball much better from there."
In addition to the returnees, the team consists of two additional seniors — Marta Kribbs and Daija Kleintob — three juniors, Linnaea Rusaw, Emily Lester and Alexis Goodman; and three sophomores, Katie Ellington, Olivia Grosse and Mireina Trujillo. All will be counted on to provide support both on and off the court for the core of primary contributors.
But don't let playing time fool you — this band of netters is a cohesive unit built around hard work and positivity, putting no one above the team.
"They all have such a great attitude," said Lieb. "The girls want to do well for each other, and that's how it should be."
The team is 1-2 to start, losing to West Salem and splitting a pair of games at the Mountain View Invitational in Bend last week. But as the bulk of the conference season approaches, Lieb is ecstatic about how her girls have responded to the team's new approach.
"We don't have a lot of height so that's forcing us to do things a little differently," she said. "We'll need to be a bit quicker with our offense and try to get more one on one stuff to close the deal quickly when we're attacking. They're learning that and making the adjustments."
And how will it all shake out in the league standings?
"There's going to be some struggles, but I'm trying to encourage the girls to believe in themselves and have fun," said Lieb. "I'm competitive and want to win, so we're focusing on us and getting better as a team. But I really just want these girls to have fun."