Local prep volleyball starts on Tuesday, August 22, when Wood River travels to Columbia, and Filer hosts Kimberly and Declo in a tri-team match. From local powerhouses looking to capture a state championship to new coaches looking to build programs from the ground up, interesting storylines are abound across District IV volleyball.
4A Great Basin Conference
Twin Falls figures to be the favorite in the Great Basin Conference again this year. The Bruins did not lose a conference set until the District IV championship last season, and finished third at the 4A state tournament for the second year in a row.
In 2015, the Bruins made a deep postseason run behind a core group of sophomores. In 2016, they did the same behind a core group of juniors. If Twin Falls is going to break through with a state championship, this seems to be the year to do it.
“It comes down to just staying in the moment,” said Twin Falls head coach B.J. Price. “We’re working on skills in drills. This group of kids knows what it takes to get back, but they’re pretty good at just fighting off points and staying in the moment.”
The Bruins return five all-conference players, including four first-team selections and the conference player of the year, Kennedi Evans. Evans is committed to play at the University of Utah, and Whitney Solosabal is committed to play at Utah State.
Last year’s state championship bid for the Bruins fell a few games short, partially a result of first-team all-conference libero Kylie Baumert going down with injury just before the state tournament. This year, if the Bruins can stay healthy, they have a deep and experienced squad that will look to capture the program’s blue trophy.
Before the Bruins can shift their attention to the 4A state tournament, however, they will need to deal with a Great Basin Conference that coaches agree will be stronger this year. At the top of those looking to knock off the Bruins is a Burley squad that made the state tournament last year, despite having zero seniors on the roster.
“Last season, our team met one of our goals of going to state. This year, we hope to improve on last year’s accomplishments,” said Burley head coach Stephanie Shirley.
The Bobcats return Makayla Tolman, a first-team all-conference opposite hitter last year as a freshman, and four other all-conference performers, including junior outside hitter Kennedee Tracy. In all, Burley has six seniors and three juniors.
“Our team has experience, but each of them still realizes that they can continue to get better with hard work, supporting each other and trying things they haven’t tried before,” Shirley said.
First-year Minico head coach Donavan Terry inherits three all-conference outside hitters—first-team junior Taylia Stimpson, second-team junior Sunny Perry and honorable mention senior Maura Merrill. Fellow first-year coaches at Canyon Ridge (Michelle Glass), Jerome (Babes Kalulu) and Wood River (Tim Richards) look to turn around programs that struggled last year.
Canyon Ridge returns senior Madie Hatch, Wood River returns all-conference middle back Annie Kaminski, and Jerome returns junior libero Vivi Ortega. For the Riverhawks, junior libero Clair Hodge, an honorable mention all-conference selection, moved across town to Twin Falls High School.
“We definitely have a lot of potential. We just have to go back to the basics and meshing as a team. This is a rebuild,” said Glass, who was a freshman coach at Canyon Ridge last year before taking the varsity job. “The vibe has changed with us. We really emphasize being there.”
3A Sawtooth Central Idaho Conference
One year after a senior-heavy Buhl team rolled through the Sawtooth Central Idaho Conference, the Indians’ conference appears to be in flux again.
Buhl must replace seven seniors, including twins Madison (libero) and McKenna (setter) Brinkman and middle back Kayla Cole. They do return a pair of outside hitters in senior Sage Eckert and junior Kylie Crossland.
Filer graduated five seniors from last year’s squad, but returns most of their hitters, and coaches across the conference seemed most intrigued by the Wildcats’ development. Filer was the lone SCIC team to beat Buhl last season.
Gooding returns just two starters in junior Grace Parker and senior Callie Graves. Junior Riley Comstock, who was the team’s libero last season, is expected to miss the entire season with a knee injury that stemmed from basketball season last winter.
This Senators team must replace the blocking prowess of graduated senior Tessa Conrad. Several young players will take on bigger roles this season, including sophomore Kassie Adkinson and junior Laken Wolf.
“We’re more talented than we have been in the last three years. We are fast, and I think we’ll be scrappy,” said third-year head coach Trica Adkinson. “We’re hoping to finally break that barrier and get back to state.”
Lawrence Pfefferle is returning from a one-year retirement to coach Kimberly for the eighth season in the past nine years. The Bulldogs lost just one senior to graduation last year, and return several experienced upperclassmen, including a pair of senior setters, Dezi Overacre and Hannah Frey.
“They’ve been through the experience of conference play. That will be good for us,” said Pfefferle.
2A Canyon Conference
Both teams in the 2A Canyon Conference, Declo and Wendell, head into the 2017 season with new coaches.
Heather Gibby of Declo inherits a senior-heavy squad that includes multi-sport standouts Courtney Christopherson, Jaesa Fox and Mattie Ramsey. They must replace three seniors from last year’s team that went 1-2 at the 2A state tournament.
New Wendell head coach Michelle Aoi takes over a team that has two returning starters, senior Karla Coronado and junior Josie Layton.
“We’re trying to find the girls who are physically and mentally prepared. For the younger girls, we’re trying to find out if the mental side is ready,” said Aoi. “Even though we’re a growing team, we have a lot of promising young players. We have a coaching staff that is very focused on building a team that’s going to be continually successful.”
1A-DI Snake River Conference
Last season, the Snake River Conference belonged to Valley. This year, the conference looks to be up for grabs.
Valley, which finished third at the 1A-DI state tournament last season, must replace a loaded senior class that included three collegiate volleyball players and two collegiate track athletes. Just two players with varsity experience, senior Jaci Hernandez and junior Broganne Mangum, return this season. Hernandez will be expected to inherit the leadership role that conference player of the year Tannah Sellers occupied for the Vikings over the past four years.
“I’ve had to think more about planning practice and figuring out what we want to do with positions,” said Valley head coach Katie Clark. “Having a fresh start and not having to rely on the older players should help some of our younger players out this year.”
Three teams appear waiting in the wings to dethrone the Vikings: Oakley, Shoshone and Hagerman.
Oakley returns first-team all-conference selection Rachael Mitton and has depth on its front line. Shoshone returns a quartet of all-conference performers in second-team juniors Bailee Owens and Cierra Hennings, and seniors Monce Rivas and Allysen Huyser, both of whom were honorable mention all-conference selections. The Indians had just one senior on the roster last season.
Hagerman must overcome a serious numbers shortage—head coach Katie Knight said this is the lowest turnout she’s had in her seven years at the helm—but they do return plenty of talent. The Pirates lost three all-conference performers to graduation, including first-team all-selection Cameron Locklar, but they welcome back fellow first-teamer Tristyn Hulme for her senior season.
“We have height and attacking power, which is exciting,” said Knight. “We’ll need to be confident to play all the way around the court. We can’t have injuries, can’t get sick and can’t have bad grades. We need the girls to be there every day.”
1A-DII North Side Conference
The North Side Conference appears to be a three-team race between Lighthouse Christian, Dietrich and Carey at the top, with several teams in the middle of the pack that will look to separate themselves.
Lighthouse Christian heads into the season as the clear frontrunner. The Lions captured their fourth 1A-DII state championship in the past five years last season, and appeared in the state tournament for the sixth year in a row.
They return two four-year varsity players in setter Sabrina De Jong and Chloe Gomez, but must replace libero Allie Brandsma and team leader Jessica Lund this season. Lighthouse will look for senior Haylee Grossman, junior Gracie Cover and sophomore Maycee Holloway to take on bigger leadership roles, as they each possess varsity experience.
Lighthouse head coach Tobie Helman said she implores her team to take the season on a game-by-game basis instead of looking ahead to the state tournament, where they’ve been mainstays over the past half of a decade.
“This is an entirely new team. We stress a lot that we don’t win just because the team from last year won,” said Helman. “You can’t control people’s minds, but as a coach, you can point them in the right direction.”
Dietrich returns plenty of varsity experience, as setter Ryann Perron (now at Treasure Valley Community College) was the only senior on the roster last season. Among their returnees are seniors Cassi Berthelson and Jaxen Eggleston, and junior Matigan Bingham.
Carey is perhaps the biggest wild card of the three teams at the top of the conference. The Panthers lost three seniors from last season, including Jaicee Parke, but return a talented junior class that includes Athanasia Versis, Kodi Green and Shantell Chavez.