This past spring, three of the North Marion volleyball program's four tallest players walked across the stage and received their diplomas. Unless the team experiences some unexpected growth spurts, the 2019 Huskies are going to be much shorter around the net.
Nonetheless, the talk around the practice court is nothing but positive entering the fall season, and many of the players see the lack of height as much more of an asset than a liability.
"I think it's going to be easier, because a lot of us on this team played defensive position in club," senior Kelsey Richardson said. "We lost that big presence on the net, (so) we're going to have to be a really good defensive team instead of a good offensive team."
The Huskies are going to be flexible this year. The roster printed for their season-opening game at Woodburn on Tuesday, Sept. 3 may have position names next to each player, but that's more of a suggestion than anything else. This North Marion team is going to be equally skilled at nearly every job that is needed come game time.
"We have all the different puzzle pieces we need and we're starting to fit together," senior Alana Walls said. "We have multiple setters, we have multiple hitters who hit different ways, which is challenging for other teams to play defense on. It's nice, it's interchangeable."
Walls joins the varsity program after previous playing for the Huskies as a sophomore. She played at the club level her junior year and gives North Marion another veteran senior to pair with Richardson and four-year varsity member Katie Ensign.
"I'm super excited, "Walls said. "I think this year is going to be super positive. We're all super upbeat and we already get along."
The sentiment is echoed by Ensign, who is looking forward to following up last year's season as co-league champs to win the Tri-River Conference outright in 2019 and make a deep run at the playoffs.
"Our group of girls, we all mesh really well and we're really close," Ensign said. "I feel like we have a lot of potential and we'll be pretty good this year."
Much like the players, the coaching staff itself is also a mix of skills and talents. Head coach Trevor Bodine has 20-plus years under his belt, though none of it in volleyball. However, Ensign has been to the state basketball quarterfinals with Bodine for the past three seasons and knows he has all the tools to motivate the team to compete in every practice and every game.
"I like him a lot," Ensign said. " He doesn't know the most about volleyball yet, but we for sure know he'll be a really good coach."
"Volleyball isn't all about skill, there's mental strength and stuff like that that he's teaching us too," Walls added. "He's doing a good job teaching us how to play volleyball that's different than just skill-based."
The Huskies have been on an upward momentum for the past half decade, going from a 2-15 season in 2013 to respectable seasons in 2014, 2015 and 2016. North Marion qualified for the state play-in game in 2017 and went 9-1 in league last year to win a share of the title with Estacada and qualify for the first round of the state playoffs.
This year, the Huskies want to keep that momentum moving and reach the next level of success — the state quarterfinal tournament.
"We don't want to share the title," Richardson said. "We've played hard, worked hard and we really deserve to go to the state tournament. We'll see how that goes."
Following North Marion's season opener at Woodburn, the Huskies will play travel to Cascade on Saturday, Sept. 7 for their first tournament of the season and home to host the Banks Braves on Tuesday, Sept. 10.
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