Coming off a third-place finish at state, the Bucks are talented and deep

The Leslie Hiller era of St. Paul volleyball has been synonymous with success.

Since Hiller took control of the program in 2009, the Buckaroos have made the playoffs all four years and built a record of 87-28. Not that the team was doing poorly before Hiller – they placed third in state in 2008 and sixth in 2007 – but Hiller said she believes the team has been building over the past several years and is close to challenging for a state title.

“The last two years it’s like we’ve been climbing a ladder and doing a little better each year,” Hiller said.

The Buckaroos placed fourth in state in 2011 and third in 2012, winning all but two conference games in the process. Despite losing Casco co-player of the year Natalie Stone to graduation, along with fellow first team All-Casco League performer Katie Jo-Coleman, the Bucks are once again poised to make a run at the conference and state titles.

“Last year we graduated five seniors and this year we’ve got kids that just slid right into their spots,” Hiller said.

Among the returning players are second-team selection Delany Sump, who was named to the state tournament first team as a junior last season. She’ll be joined by Natalie Stone’s younger sister, Cameron, who was a second-team all-league selection as a freshman a year ago.

Sara Pierson, Jessica Wilmes, Madison Caldwell and Carolina Ruvalcaba all return as well to give the team plenty of experience to start the season. Alex Coleman, Remy Brentano, Kennedy Smith and Emma Coleman will also be in the rotation.

“We have 10 kids returning with state experience, so that’s pretty solid,” Hiller said. “Pretty much all 10 of them have a starting spot.”

Behind St. Paul’s core, Hiller has her eyes on a team of seven sophomores who are waiting in the wings to continue St. Paul’s winning ways once this year’s seniors graduate.

“Coming up right behind them are some pretty good players, which I think pushes them … to work harder,” she said, adding that she doesn’t believe the younger athletes are burdened by any added pressure to continue St. Paul’s dominance in league play.

“I don’t think (they) stress about it at all,” she said. “I think they want to be part of it, so they’re just eagerly trying to improve as much as they can so they can slide into the slots as they open up.”

Not that the other teams in the Casco League will simply hand the league title to the Bucks, who placed second in the conference last year after losing to rival Perrydale in the conference layoffs. The Bucks and Pirates have finished first or second in the Casco in each of the past three seasons. Hiller points to Country Christian and Veritas as potential conference threats as well, though St. Paul is prepared for each of the other seven teams in the Casco.

“You never know who’s going to surprise, but those are three very solid teams,” she said.

While Hiller’s job as coach involves pushing the team to constantly improve, she said the members of the Bucks volleyball team are good at motivating themselves on a week-to-week basis as the season progresses.

“The players themselves set a weekly goal that we continue to assess throughout the week,” she said. “Their goal is to be the best team they can be, so they’re constantly pushing to improve and they don’t sit back and feel comfortable at any point in time.”

The Bucks open the season Saturday at Dufur and will open league play Tuesday versus Veritas at Chehalem Valley Middle School.

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