St. Paul volleyball looks to return to state title
St. Paul's volleyball has been an absolute powerhouse over the past decade, including an abbreviated and highly unusual 2020-21 season. The Bucks racked up a 13-5 record during the pandemic season, good enough for second in the ever-competitive Casco League. The 13 wins across all competition were tied for fifth most at the 1A level during the season, and the team reached the finals of the 1A State Invitational before falling to The Valley 10 League's Damascus Christian.
The team last year was young. With a roster 13-deep according to OSAA, only five players were upperclassmen and only three of those upperclassmen were seniors. St. Paul returns many to the lineup to try and keep up the team's standard of excellence.
A few noteworthy players to keep an eye out for this season include incoming senior setter Ainsley Goughnour, incoming juniors Anabelle Davidson (middle blocker) and Halsie Hempfling (outsider hitter), all of whom will be team captains. In additio,n incoming sophomores Stella and Gracie Koch will be outside hitter and setter, respectively.
St. Paul volleyball coach Lesli Hiller expects senior Jenna Hurliman, juniors Frankie Lear and Siena Garstka, and sophomores Meredith Coleman and Isla Haven to turn some heads as well with their performances on the court. Hiller also expects a different type of energy to be at games this season with fans in attendance.
"When you're a coach, you just focus on the court, and that's what a lot of the players said when they were in the game, they didn't really notice that there weren't fans," Hiller said. "But I think it's more when you have those breaks and those timeouts or you have that great hit and then you hear the fans, it can be encouraging throughout the game."
The Casco League offers stiff competition this year. Jewell, last year's league champions, finished their season with a record of 13-2 and a perfect league record. Perrydale finished behind St. Paul in league play, but with an above-.500 record.
It's more than getting back to the top of the Casco League though. In the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, St. Paul staked its claim as the best volleyball team in the state at 1A, with a combined record of 59-5 over that time. The eyes are on the state title, but the players aren't feeling any added pressure to live up to the school's impressive reputation, according to Hiller.
"They definitely want to be successful, and I think that just comes from the drive of all the sports at St. Paul," Hiller said. "We all try to be successful in our sport, and I don't feel like they have a lot of weight on their shoulders. I feel like it's more they've seen the other kids take state in the sport, and they want to feel that same feeling. They want to have that same accomplishment. I don't feel like it's a weight on their shoulders. I feel more like it's a motivator for them."
St. Paul's volleyball team plays its first game against school alumni on Aug. 26 and its first game against an outside opponent facing off with Joseph at noon Friday, Aug. 27.
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