HOUGHTON - The Houghton Gremlins are rebooting their line-up this season, with just one player returning to the same spot she occupied in 2011.
Before chalking this up as a rebuilding season, remember this: Houghton had only one major returner going into last season, which ended in the Class C state quarterfinals after an unbeaten run through the WestPAC.
"After losing six regular players off of last year's team, we really only have one girl who's playing the same role she played on last year's team," Houghton coach John Christianson said.
Houghton’s Blaire Zenner goes on the attack during a 2011 match at Calumet. Zenner returns to the middle hitter position for the Gremlins in her senior year. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
That girl is senior middle hitter Blaire Zenner, who played opposite graduate Joey Carroll in the Gremlins' regular rotation last season.
"She has some of the best block timing of any player I've ever coached. She has the instinct to jump at the right time to get her hands on the ball," Christianson said.
Houghton has three others who saw significant playing time in 2011, but not in their 2012 positions. Bronwyn Nettell saw spot duty last season but will play all the way around in 2012 at one outside hitter spot. Mackenzie Hietala moves from outside hitter to libero and Natalie Datto moves from outside hitter to setter. All three are seniors.
Datto set some for the Gremlins in "The Rock" tournament at Gladstone last season and has been in the position since team camps in the summer.
"A lot of it's just working on decisions and she's getting better and better with every day of practice," Christianson said.
Junior Kenna Farrey backs her up.
Houghton has had lots of time to sort out the position battles: Its only action of the season thus far was a second-place finish at the Sault Invitational more than two weeks ago, though the Gremlins return to the court for their first dual match tonight at Lake Linden-Hubbell.
Three players are candidates to take the second middle position opposite Zenner: Emma Binkley, Elisa Jurmu and Annika Wheeler.
Two sophomores, Emma Huhta and Sydney Dillinger will see time at outside hitter as well, while Mikayla Revoyr and Jada Riutta play the right-side, or opposite, hitter position.
"We're in a position where I expect over the next week or so, as we play Lake Linden on Tuesday and as we go down to defend the Rock in Gladstone (Saturday), we'll figure things out and determine the regulars at those positions," Christianson said.
Christianson likes the way the team has served early in the season and believes there's good athleticism on the roster, but there is much to improve with such an inexperienced squad.
"We've got to work on ball control, whether it's hand passing, platform passing, spiking, all of those things, that's what we've been spending most of our time on," he said.
Tuesday's LL-H trip will be tough, and WestPAC battles with Hancock and Calumet loom large, though the squad's Sault performance provides a hopeful bit of foreshadowing.
"Other than the two times we played Petoskey (which won the tournament), we were right in there with everybody and when crunch time came, we played really tough," Christianson said.