L'ANSE - Almost every team is filled with optimism entering a new season, and the L'Anse varsity volleyball squad is no exception. Purple Hornet coach Jen Knisely feels she has plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
"I'm really looking forward to this season. It's my fifth year of coaching, and it's the most talented group we've had," she said. "... The WestPAC is always a very tough conference for volleyball with powerhouses Houghton and Calumet, but this is the year we can actually be really competitive with them. We definitely have the strength and talent to do so."
L'Anse is particularly talented in the front row, led by a pair of senior middle blockers who double as captains, Valerie Rajala and Alyssa Norback.
"It's interesting because usually it's a setter and hitter for captains, but both of them being middle blockers brings a new dynamic to the floor," Knisely said.
Breanna Dudo has also been impressive as a junior middle blocker, but Knisely is thrilled because she may have just as much talent on the outside, with six different players she can rotate in at the position. Kayla Nagele is a returning starter, but other starting hitting roles are still up in the air, even heading into tonight's local opener at Ontonagon. The Hornets finished second at an Aug. 24 tournament in West Iron County.
While the front row may have the most proven talent, the rest of the starting roster has plenty as well. L'Anse had 20 girls try out for the team, with only 14 making the cut.
Leading the way at setter will be third-year varsity player Rebecca Roth. She'll be starting for the first time only because now-graduated Heather McCarthy held down the spot the last few seasons.
"Rebecca is ready to step up," said Knisely, who is impressed with Roth's ability to distribute to everyone, even though she brings a different style than McCarthy. "Heather was a very vocal setter, and the girls have had to get used to more of a quiet leader on the floor, but she does a nice job."
Lindsey Hulkonen, who has been starting JV setter the last two years, will see plenty of time in the rotation. L'Anse will also rely heavily on another junior in libero Allison Waara.
After playing at Ontonagon tonight, L'Anse will play its WestPAC opener Tuesday at Hancock. The Purple Hornets' home opener will be the following Tuesday against Chassell.
"We're definitely ready to go," Knisely said. "This is the longest preseason I've had. We had that one tournament in West Iron County, got second place in that, and we've got a positive vibe going on. Hopefully that carries us into the season."