The Wildcats volleyball team returns 11 varsity players from last year's team that made the state playoffs.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Westview players celebrate a point during a match with Jesuit last season. The Wildcats finished second in the Metro League last year and are aiming high again this season.It's all systems go for the Westview volleyball team this season.

With 10 seniors — many of which are two- to four-year varsity players — and 11 returning varsity players from 2021 on the roster, Wildcats head coach Janelle Brandt said this is a unique group and one with very lofty goals.

"This is a very special group," Brandt said. "They are just fun players to be around, have fun with each other everyday at practice, and get along well with each other.

"Westview has been making strides in our program over the last few seasons, and this group is determined to be one of the best volleyball teams in school history."

Brandt had a hard time singling out players from that senior group, but she pointed to outside hitter Alize Bakker, libero Kennedy Cheung and middle blocker Halle Garrity as key contributors to this year's team.

Bakker is a four-year varsity player, team captain and first-team All-Metro honoree from last year, and Brandt expects her to be a "dominant leader for us (Westview) on the court and is one of our go-to hitters."

Cheung too is in her fourth varsity season and shines in the back row, bringing high-level value both defensively and returning serves.

"She leads our team defensively," Brandt said, "keeps us in a lot of big rallies, is fearless and plays with a lot of grit."

COURTESY PHOTO: WESTVIEW ATHLETICS - Westview outside hitter Alize Bakker serves during a Wildcats match. Bakker was an All-Metro selection last season and one of Westview's team captains this year.And Garrity — also an All-Metro player last season — is an explosive offensive player and strong server. Brandt describes her as the team's vocal leader.

The coach also mentioned a newcomer, sophomore Olivia Madsen, as a potential impact player, citing the youngster's size as a valuable commodity that no team can have too much of.

"She gives us a big block and more height in the front row," the coach said. "She's still developing, but has a very hard swing and will contribute to our success offensively."

The remaining roster includes: Daphne Bakker, Kaytlyn Lebeck, Kenzie Mouw, Taylor Guerra, Riley Hackett, Admire TwoTwo, Natalie and Natasha Perez, and team manager Olivia Hertel.

Brandt believes defense and team chemistry are her team's strength, pointing directly to the girls' propensity to push and support their teammates as a trait that sets them apart. At the same time, the coach points to serve-receive, passing and blocking as areas which need some level of improvement.

"Volleyball is a game of momentum," she said. "If you are a solid passing team it's hard for your opponent to get you out of system."

The Wildcats are 2-0 early in the season with straight-set victories over Glencoe and Sherwood to start the year. The Metro League is always difficult, and that won't change this season, with state power Jesuit leading the way, while Brandt believes both Sunset and Mountainside will be formidable as well.

And her Wildcats? A Westview team hasn't brought home a trophy from the state tournament since a fourth-place finish in 2001, so Brandt said that's on the team's radar. But in all, they're aiming for a top-two finish in league, another state playoff bid, and from there — who knows?

"Our goal this year is to contend for a league title and make a run in the state tournament," Brandt said. "I believe we have a group that is determined to achieve that goal, but the key to our success this year will be our defense, staying healthy and taking it one match at a time."

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