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A packed roster that includes eight seniors has high hopes for the 2019 season

GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - With only two players topping six feet tall on the roster, the Tigers will concentrate on defense as they prepare for the season's start next week.

After going 11-11 in 2018 and bowing out in the 6A postseason, Newberg High School volleyball is relying on its experience to compete in 2019. The Tigers have eight seniors on the roster and hope their speed and defensive abilities make up for a comparative lack of height.

Newberg finished last season ranked No. 23 in the state and got a taste of the playoffs, but it hopes to advance now that its team is a year older. Coach Mackenzie Upchurch said the team's chemistry should carry it throughout a challenging schedule.

"They have the experience playing in the varsity program but also playing together," Upchurch said. "Most of those girls have been playing together from a young age – since they were in fifth or sixth grade."

The eight seniors on the roster include middle blockers Tori Petersen, Madison Brumbaugh and Morgan Lemen, defensive specialist Kaylie Duckworth, setters Lauren Griswold and Lia Reid, outside hitter Becca Upchurch and opposite hitter Olivia Ranum.GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - NHS coach Mackenzie Upchurch talks strategy with her players during a recent practice.

Griswold is expected to be among the leaders on the court for this team, but Upchurch said the senior class possesses a collective leadership that shows itself in practice. The girls can lift each other up and hold each other accountable, she said, and that will prove valuable once games roll around.

"We haven't named our captains yet, but because we have so many seniors that have come up through the program, I have really strong leadership on this squad," Upchurch said. "Everyone is going to have a role to fulfill this season and I am really fortunate to have them."

Newberg opens its season on the road at Metro League powerhouse Southridge. Its Pacific Conference schedule includes two games apiece against McMinnville and Sherwood – two of the top teams in the conference and bitter rivals.

Making the move back to the Pacific Conference was good for the team last year, Upchurch said, and she looks forward to the rivalry matches this season.

"Last year, being back in the Pacific Conference felt like home," she said. "There was good, competitive play and plenty of rivalries that brought out the best in our team. We are excited to be returning to that and I think we match up really well this year."

Newberg has only two players on its roster – Lemen and freshman Sophia Gregoire-Salagean – who are listed at six feet tall. The rest of the team is listed at 5-foot-9 or shorter, making for a significant challenge when it comes to facing the taller squads in 6A. Play around the net can be a challenge when your team is shorter.

Gregoire-Salagean is going to be "exciting to watch" this season, Upchurch said, but the team's play style will focus on making up for its lack of height.

"We've never been particularly tall, so we lean heavily on our defense," Upchurch said. "We rely a lot on our defensive specialists and we run as quick of an offense as we can. If we can pass better and move faster than our opponent, we're usually in pretty good shape, and our ball control this year has been exceptional."

Getting back to the postseason is the team's primary goal and the Tigers hope to finish near the top of the Pacific Conference. To do that, Upchurch said, they will need to stay healthy and play their brand of volleyball while showcasing their depth.

Chemistry won't be an issue; Upchurch said the group is tight-knit.

"They have an amazingly positive energy," she said. "They work so hard and are so supportive of one another. It's really nice to see them bring out the best in their teammates."

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