VOLLEYBALL PREVIEW | Experienced South Kitsap eyes net gains

Wolves seek more after first district appearance since 2008

He has far often seen a roster dominated by one or two players.

But when the volleyball hits the court, South Kitsap coach CJ Scott said this year’s team will possess a different attribute: depth.

“We’ve had to rely on one or two players in the past,” he said. “I think now we have the freedom to set everyone and we just have more options. It’s nice.”

When Scott, who teaches physical education at Sidney Glen Elementary School, was hired in 2013, he said making volleyball “a big deal here” would be a key toward developing a program that sustains success. In an effort to cultivate interest in the sport, Scott developed youth leagues for seventh- through ninth-graders and fifth- and sixth-graders.

The strategy seems to be working — at least from a turnout standpoint. The Wolves had 55 players try out in August, and in an effort to minimize cuts, they added a second C team.

“We’ve had a lot more girls playing club ball over the winter, too,” Scott said. “There’s just more interest in the community now and that was my first goal to get those numbers up.”

He has noticed that in this freshman class, which he called the program’s “biggest, deepest and most talented we’ve had,” that many participated in his recreation program during his first year. One of those players, outside hitter Anna Fall, will have a prominent role on varsity this year.

“Anna Fall is a freshman with untapped potential,” Scott said. “To start as an outside hitter as a freshman is a big deal. As her confidence grows she’s going to be pretty tough.”

Fall is the only freshman on varsity, though. Scott said that is related to the depth and experience on the team. Last year, South’s only seniors who played extensively were middle blocker Shannon Laupola and setter Zoe Conger.

“Shannon was a big loss, she was a really strong hitter and blocker, too,” senior middle blocker Courtney Schmidt said. “But I think our team is going to be pretty strong this year. We have a lot of good chemistry and we work together really well.”

Schmidt, setter Emma York and outside hitter Natalie Olson — all starters — will spend their third year under the current coaching staff. Now that all of the Wolves only have played on varsity under Scott, York believes he has a better grasp of the team.

“He comes up with a lot of drills and activities that really identify our weaknesses and make us stronger,” she said, adding that the coaching staff has emphasized defense during the preseason.

Scott shared similar sentiments.

“I think we’ve kind of gotten into a rhythm with our girls,” he said. “We all kind of understand each other and are on the same page.”

Now, Scott said it is time for that to translate into results. South, which had a 3-9 record in league play last year, opened Class 4A Narrows League play against defending state champion Bellarmine Prep on Sept. 10.

“The top-tier teams in our league all lost quite a bit,” Scott said. “I think the parity in our league will be a little bit better this year. I told the girls that we need to start beating the Olympias, Timberlines and the Gig Harbors. We’ve got to take the next step at some point. It might as well be now.”

Despite their struggles in league play, the Wolves defeated Stadium in the 4A Narrows Tournament to advance to the West Central District Tournament for the first time since 2008. South lost against both Emerald Ridge and Olympia there to miss qualifying for state for the first time since 2000.

“It kind of showed us what our potential could be,” Schmidt said. “I know we didn’t quite reach where we wanted to last year, so this year it’s kind of pushing us to strive harder and get more of those wins in the districts. I feel like we’re going to go a lot farther this year.”

Scott said two other returning starters — 6-foot-2 junior opposite Diane Olson and 6-1 sophomore middle blocker Sarah Carlson — improved during the offseason.

That experience, Scott said, should position his team well.

“Our expectation is to get back to districts and win,” he said. “I believe we have the talent to do it.”

But in order to maximize that, Scott said he will need to work on the team’s mentality.

“This is a very nice even-keeled group of girls,” he said. “One thing we need to work on is always having the energy. They’ll stay together, but they’re very mellow so we need to bring out that energy and fire. That will help us against the better teams.”