WENDELL — The Shoshone and Wendell high school volleyball teams entered Thursday’s season-opener on different tracks.
Shoshone returns the bulk of its players from an 11-8 team that battled for a 1A Division I state berth. Wendell is coming off a losing season, and it has more sophomores and freshmen (four) than seniors (three) on the 2017 roster.
On Thursday, Shoshone flipped the outcome of the 2016 season-opener, a four-set loss to the Trojans. The Indians swept Wendell in straight sets 25-9, 25-10, 25-13.
For Wendell head coach Michelle Aoi, Thursday’s game carried a little extra weight than most nonconference games. Her mother, Carolyn Aoi, is the Indians’ JV coach, and the Aois live together in Shoshone.
“We’re a very competitive family, but we’re more focused on our athletes doing well,” Michelle Aoi said. “It’s very civil at home.”
Aoi, who is in her first season as head coach, also understood the context surrounding Thursday’s match. This is a rebuilding season, she said, and she fully knows Shoshone is on another level, even though the Indians play in the classification below Wendell (2A).
The Indians displayed a well-oiled and explosive game on Thursday. They never trailed in any set, and they left the Trojans off-balance throughout the match on serves and kill attempts.
“I’ve been playing freshmen for the last two years, and sophomores last year,” Shoshone coach Melisa Martin said. “This year, maturity-wise, they understand the game.”
Wendell struggled with communication all night, which sparked frustration on the bench at several points. But Aoi expected some kinks in the first match of the year. After the match, she focused on moments of success that appeared in short spurts.
Wendell’s best stretch occurred near the end of the third set, when the match was all but over.
“Now we have a starting point, and those girls know what they can do,” Aoi said. “They know how to play the game. Now, it’s stringing those points together.”
A few minutes after the match ended, Martin brought her team together for a quick postgame meeting. The coaches and players broke the huddle by yelling the word, “State,” in unison. They were vocalizing their goal — to reach their first state tournament since 2010.
“We’re working for what we want,” Shoshone senior Monce Rivas said.
Valley was the lone Snake River Conference team to reach last year’s 1A-DI state tournament, and Shoshone finished fourth in the conference. But the Indians boast plenty of returning talent, and every player is an upperclassman.
They wouldn’t be chanting, “State,” if they didn’t think it was attainable.
Shoshone next plays at Gooding on Wednesday, and Wendell hosts Castleford on Tuesday.