Valley Catholic brings back, skill, savvy, leadership

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Valley Catholic sophomore Lizzy Osborn was first-team all-Cowapa League last season and was one vote away from being the conferences player of the year.

Becky Kemper is all too familiar with Banks’ volleyball prowess.

Kemper lives in Banks. Her kids grew up there and her family is active in the community. Plus, Kemper’s sister-in-law is one of the Braves’ coaches.

She’s acquainted with the Braves’ ability, especially after her Valley Catholic volleyball team was buried by Banks twice last year during the Valiants’ first year in the Cowapa League.

It goes without saying, seeing your team lose and then getting teased about it back home didn’t make for the most enjoyable offseason for Kemper.

However, furnished with springy outside hitters and scroungy defensive players who like to stand in the line of fire and disrupt opposing offensive attacks, Kemper thinks Valley can beat her hometown squad.

“I’m looking for a league championship,” said Kemper. But “we have to perform in those big matches and take care of the little things. My girls came in a little nervous last year, knowing Banks, and we didn’t play well. This year, we’ll be able to go in there, give them a good match and, hopefully, come out with the win.”

Valley has seven returners and five newcomers who are well beyond where the Valiants began last year. Kemper said Valley is a fiercely competitive crew that doesn’t need to be coached on aspects of the game like heart and effort.

“I don’t think there is a hole on this team,” said Kemper. “I’ve had players in the past who were good, but they weren’t that competitive. It maybe mattered to them for a little bit that they lost, but it didn’t really bother them. The fact I don’t have to fire this team up or talk is great. They’re very self-motivated and that helps us focus on the technical things.”

Senior defensive specialists Olivia Jackson, Abby Groh and Daria Wonderlick are three of the top defenders in Cowapa. Sophomore power hitter Lizzy Osborn has evolved into a defensive force and talented passer as well, even if she’s playing in the back row.

“It’s a great problem to have,” said Kemper with a smile. “We might not have a big front line, but having strong defense is going to keep us in games for longer and be able to take away other teams’ offenses and put the ball away on our side.”

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Valley Catholic senior Jordan Paulsen is one of five players back for the Valiants this fall.

Osborn and freshman Kayla Robbins will man the middle for Valley. Osborn — an athletic, smooth, coordinated 6-footer who stepped in and started from day one last year — was one vote away from being named the Cowapa League Player of the Year last season. The sophomore, who has actually grown a couple inches, has improved to the point of playing all six rotations for Kemper after an off-season on the club circuit.

“She’s coming back stronger than ever,” said Kemper of Osborn. “She’s always been confident. Even last year, she emerged as a leader. She has a great court sense and she’s hitting the ball harder.”

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Valley Catholic outside hitter Regan Dean has become more consistent with her kills this offseason according to head coach Becky Kemper.

When foes try to zero in on Osborn and stack blocks against her at the net, Valley has other weapons to utilize. Kemper said her star middle blocker is capable of beating double teams, but if they’re forced to go to senior transfer Blaise Johnson or junior Regan Dean on the perimeter, the Valiants will still be fruitful.

Seniors Jordan Paulsen and Megan O’Donnell, junior Sara Gram and sophomore Megan O’Donnell are also in the rotation this fall.

“(Osborn) will make all six of our players better,” said Kemper. “(Dean) is a totally different player this year. She’s coming back and putting balls away with a lot more consistency than last year.”

Johnson took private lessons with Kemper’s daughter, Tori, over the summer which gave the veteran head coach a chance to get a glimpse of Johnson’s talent.

“I’m excited about her,” said Kemper. “She’s explosive. She’s a hard worker and she has that competitiveness. If she makes a mistake, she wants another ball. She doesn’t hang her head. She’s fired up about putting the next one away. She doesn’t want to lose and I don’t like to lose either.”

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