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Departed players allow for incoming freshmen to make an impact early for the Gervais volleyball program

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Gervais middle blocker Bella Vasquez is one of just two seniors that were on last years volleyball team that finished one game shy of qualifying for the league playoffs.Losing a big class of players is somewhat of a double-edged sword for the Gervais volleyball program this year.

While the program will be hard-pressed to replace the outgoing talent that graduated and transferred over the offseason, the roster moves open up new avenues for playing time to incoming freshmen looking to make their mark as the next class of Cougar athletes.

Such is the case for head coach Maddy Bowman, who enters the 2019-20 season with a number of holes in her roster to fill and bevy of players eager to step onto the court.

"I'm excited that we have a pretty big and well-trained freshman class for all sports," Bowman said. "It's nice to see some girls who have experience coming in."

Gone is Third Team libero Abigail Saalfeld and fellow graduated seniors Erika Rambeau and Alexis Luna. The departure of juniors Rysi Koos and Mary Davidson, who transferred out of district over the summer, further depletes the Cougars of much-needed size at the front of the net.

But the incoming freshman class boasts the kind of height and experience at the club level that will make several of them key assets to immediately step in and provide a boost to the veteran junior core set to return this fall.

PMG PHOTOS: PHIL HAWKINS - This year's core of juniors, including Lilly Welburn (left) helped the program two years prior."After all of our changes with losing so many seniors and losing Mary, it's exciting to see a lot of good freshmen coming up that are going to be trainable and coachable, and already have some set skills," Bowman said. "I think there's a couple of them that do club, but I think a lot of them are more athletic."

The incoming class mirrors that from two years ago that includes juniors Celi Vasquez (Second Team All-Conference), Lilly Welburn and Isabel Contreras. Add in returning senior Bella Vasquez, and the Cougars have the much-needed experience that is needed for the team to pursue a league playoff berth after missing the tournament cut for a third straight time last year.

The Cougars have been on an upward trend over the past three seasons, going 5-18 in 2016 followed by a 5-13 season a year later when Celi Vasquez, Welburn, Contreras and Davidson entered the program.

After moving from 3A to 2A last year, Gervais went 8-12 overall and 7-9 in league play, rebounding from a 2-8 start to the season to 6-4 in the final month of play and finish one game shy of the league playoffs.

Bowman and assistant coach Kevin Davidson enter their second season together as partners in crime. The duo also serve as the high school's softball coaches, with Davidson taking the helm during the spring while Bowman serves as assistant.

PMG PHOTOS: PHIL HAWKINS - Talented incoming freshmen like Lilly McCargar (foreground) and Izzy Boyd are set to give the Gervais Cougars a punch in the arm "He is just an amazing coach," Bowman said. "He really knows how to break things down and teach the girls. It's really awesome to have him in any sport."

Bowman played softball under Davidson when she was a student athlete at Gervais, and his ability to teach athletics while ribbing the players helps create the kind of positive atmosphere that keeps teammates coming back each season and coming out for spring softball season.

"He's dissing on you, but it's kind of fun, so I think that helps the girls from feeling really down on themselves," Bowman said. "That helps a lot having someone that's fun and able to do both — give feedback, but in a nice, fun happier kind of way."

The Cougars kick things off with a jamboree at Western Christian High School on Thursday, Aug. 29 and follow with their season-opener at Amity on Sept. 6. Gervais' home and league opener is scheduled for 6 p.m., Sept. 10 against the Delphian Dragons.

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