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Jaguars head coach Melissa Salness is excited for next season with a young squad returning.

COURTESY PHOTO - The Century volleyball team poses for a photo following the season. The Jaguars finished the year 5-7 overall.Like for a lot of teams in 2021, things were different for the Century Jaguars volleyball team this past season.

But while it was a taxing and difficult spring at times, head coach Melissa Salness is happy with her team's performance and proud of how they came together despite what was certainly a stacked deck.

"Things were different this year with all the COVID protocols and restrictions, and initially, it really affected the kids and their mentality," Salness said, "But we had some really great moments, the kids got along great and we ended up fourth in the league, which is great."

The coach said that while outsiders are aware of the struggles all of the athletes have been dealing with throughout the COVID ordeal, she doesn't think many fully grasp the extent of the difficulties facing them on a day-to-day basis.

Players have had to wear masks on the court. They haven't gotten the emotional support from fans during games to which they're accustomed. It's tough to kick off the rust from such a long layoff. And it's tough for some to get going, knowing their friends and family aren't able to watch them play — in some cases, for the last time.

"Emotionally, it was tough on the girls," Salness said. "With fewer players, the support and camaraderie wasn't the same, and the kids need that support."

COURTESY PHOTO - Century setter Brooke Johnson was a key contributor for the Jaguars during the 2021 volleyball season.She added that it was difficult not having everyone on the same page about the season to begin with, too. Certainly, the kids wanted to play and were excited at the prospects when it appeared a season would happen, Salness said, but at the same time, some were concerned about how things would play out amid the pandemic.

"Some kids were eager to get back in the gym, while some were hesitant," Salness said. "We talked about how important it was to follow the guidelines and rules, not only so we could have the season, but also to do the right thing, which our kids were great at."

The Jaguars won their first match at Sherwood, then dropped six of their next seven before rebounding with three wins in their last four matches, capped by a straight-sets win over the Metro League's Aloha. Salness said she saw growth throughout the six-week season on the court, but more importantly saw it off of it by way of communication, accountability and emotionally.

COURTESY PHOTO - Century junior middle blocker Kimy Anderson was a key contributor for the Jaguars during the 2021 volleyball season."There was a lot of emotional growth," the coach said. "We can't change what's happening in the world, but we can help these girls and each other be better people, which is part of it. We want to create strong volleyball players, but also strong and independent women."

On the court, she cited the play of libero Neveah Baccay as key to the team's success, along with sophomore outside hitter Tehya Militante, junior setter and team captain Brooke Johnson, and junior middle blocker Kimy Anderson, who exceled despite battling injuries all season.

"She was always cheering the loudest for everybody on our team and working super-hard in practice," Salness said. "She gave 100 percent every single day and every single play. It's great having that person who's super-supportive and just kind of a shining light on the team."

The coach also said she's excited going forward due to the team's relative youth and cohesiveness, along with a junior varsity group that brings so many great personalities and positive attitudes to the table.

"You can't teach that," Salness said.

And is the coach happy they were able to play this year, despite the short, condensed and somewhat taxing season?

"Absolutely," Salness said, because the girls ultimately had fun.

"Overall, I think everybody had a good experience," Salness said. "I'm glad the sports are back, and hopefully this opens the door for these girls to try some new sports. Kids need to socialize and to be around people their age, and I think we're all witness to that now."

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