You can't beat height. Well, you can, but it certainly doesn't hurt to have it when it comes to the game of volleyball.
Forest Grove head volleyball coach Amber Lieb is excited. Not just because the Vikings recently kicked off the 2019 season, but also due to having more of the inches — and athleticism — that simply make a difference at the net and in the game in general.
"I'm excited because this is the tallest team I've had since I've been at Forest Grove," Lieb said. "We have a lot of height and front row options, and really a lot of options in general."
Those options are in part thanks to Lieb's work building a program at the middle school level, but also as the result of the club program her assistant, Melissa Dineen, has put together with Lieb's help.
"It's certainly not all me," Lieb said. "I've been involved with the club program (Melissa) started, and that was an incredible program to get going for the community.
"Volleyball seems to be catching on more here in the Northwest, so maybe I jumped on at the right time. But I also don't want to discredit the hard work we've done, either, because you can see the girls and how eager they've been to get involved."
Lieb said 61 girls came out for volleyball this season, up from last year. Many of those kids are a direct product of the middle school and club program, and as a result are more up-to-speed with how they do things at FGHS as soon as they step on the court.
"We're really seeing all the work we've been doing at the middle school and club level starting to filter into the high school program," said the coach. "It's given us more leeway when it comes to jumping right into things, (as) opposed to having to teach the basics of how we like to do things."
Forest Grove returns senior middle blocker Oliva Grosse, who, because of extra height, will be playing more outside this year. They also return senior libero Katie Ellington — whom Lieb said is on the court 90% of the time and has the most varsity experience — and setter Ellie Kintz. Lieb added that Kintz played a different position last season, but this year was asked to move to setter based on the needs of the current roster.
"I know it stresses her out and it isn't her preferred position, but she's also honest enough to know that if she wants to play, this is where I need her," Lieb said. "She's really stepped up."
Junior Amanda Rebsom is another returner the coach expects a lot from this season. A natural athlete, Rebsom will play in the middle, but Lieb said she can also swing it — and with an increased vertical will bring a lot to the table for the Viks this year.
"She really can jump," the coach said. "She's battling a bit of a shoulder problem right now, but if we can get her back to 100% she'll definitely be a go-to girl for us when we need to execute."
The team has struggled out of the gate, winning its first match with Gresham before dropping the last three versus Reynolds, Aloha and Beaverton. Lieb said much of what has plagued the Vikings early has been passing, which she believes has been the byproduct of their relative inexperience playing together. They recently had some kids miss time due to travel, and with new kids coming in and out of the lineup, the continuity necessary to efficiently pass the ball simply hasn't been there — yet.
"We're struggling a bit with our passing and that's vital to running our offense," she said. "But when we run our offense we do pretty well, and it'll come."
One positive from the recent absences was the opportunity afforded to some of the younger girls to get varsity experience. Lieb said two girls who specifically caught her eye were sophomore libero Diana Real and freshman outside hitter Chloe Hefner, who both have a lot of potential: "Both have stepped up in practice and we took them to a tournament, and they stepped in and did a good job."
The Viks return to the Pacific Conference this season and most see McMinnville, Sherwood and Glencoe as the teams to beat. But Lieb expects it to be very competitive, and expects her team to be in there competing as well.
"We have a good conference," Lieb said. "I've seen everyone in our league struggle a bit, but also impress us at times. It'll come down to how well and how quick everyone gels."
Forest Grove opens league play this Thursday, Sept. 12, at Liberty High School.
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