Starting any athletic season with almost an entirely new varsity roster is difficult. Add a new coaching staff and the move to a new league and classification . . . forget about it.
But with all the work that went into the Woodburn volleyball program's transition season last year, head coach Kasi Pankey is looking forward to seeing how much this year's returning class of players has grown in ability and maturity when the Bulldogs hit the court to open the season.
"I think what I'm excited about is how many returning players I have," Pankey said, pointing to all but two athletes returning from last year's squad. "They're a little bit more mature team. I think the maturity will lend itself to better volleyball."
Pankey sees the Bulldogs as a team on the rise, showing a tremendous amount of growth over the past calendar year. After taking over the program before the 2018 season, Pankey built last year's roster primarily from juniors and sophomores that had played junior varsity the year before.
The new squad struggled with the transition to the more competitive play at the varisty level, but learned a great deal in the process. Pankey is eager to see how much those first-year lumps have translated to second-year growth.
"I think for all the sophomores I had last year, now that they've experienced varsity, they're going to be more comfortable and ready," she said. "I'm excited to face some of the teams that we really struggled against to see how we've improved.
The Bulldogs opened the season on Thursday against the Molalla Indians, falling 3-0 (25-10, 25-16, 25-14). Woodburn was scheduled to host the North Marion Huskies on Tuesday, Sept. 3 for their home opener, making the volleyball program the first team to showcase the high school's newly refinished court.
The goal for this year's team is simple — win some games. Woodburn went 1-18 last year, with their lone victory coming in tournament play 2-1 over the North Marion JV team. Pankey would like to see the Bulldogs strive for a win in a full five-set game, something the varsity volleyball program hasn't seen since the 2010 season.
"Everybody wants a win," Pankey said. "For us to get a win would be a feather in the cap of the program, and honestly, and these girls have it in them."
But perhaps more important for the Bulldogs over the longterm is building consistency. Last year's team had glimpses of strong play, but had difficulty stringing it together for a full game. The team tended to play up and embrace the challenge of the more difficult opponents on its schedule, but would then let errors and miscues derail winnable games against more evenly matched opponents.
"We hit the goals last year that I wanted to hit becoming more of a team and a little more cohesiveness coming together," Pankey said. "I think last year we would play up; then we would play an easier team and tend to play down a little. I want more consistency."
Though the team packs some height up front with junior middle blockers Tatyana Kalugin and Audrey Gonzalez, the Bulldogs will largely be steered by its backline defenders like Larissa Krivoshein, Jasmine Mendez Rosa Cortes and Haley Elsasser.
"I still have my same two middle players that are a little more height," Pankey said. "But we're definitely a defensive team."
An additional goal is to get more exposure for the program this season. The Bulldogs will host the Boys and Girls Club this season for a community event, and over the summer worked with kids through the Park and Rec Department. While Pankey hopes the additional work with kids will help bolster the program in the coming years, she would also like to see a bit more interest in home games to showcase the work her players have put in over the summer open gym practice sessions.
"I'd like to get more community involvement and get us out there, because we just don't bring the crowds out that a lot of other schools get," Pankey said. "So I'd like to get more outreach."
In addition to next week's home opener, the Bulldogs (0-1) will host Junction City on Thursday, Sept. 5 at 6 p.m., and will play home games on Thursday nights throughout September.
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