A 25-23 loss in the third set against St. Paul Lutheran last season kept the Cole Camp volleyball team from advancing to the state semifinals.
Senior Gabbi Mallard said coming that close is still fresh in her mind.
“Every day, every day,” she said. “We think everything happens for a reason and I think losing by two points just makes you want to do better.”
Fellow senior Lauren Baalman agreed that last year’s loss in the quarterfinals is encouraging this year’s team.
“I think it just pushes us harder to be better this year,” she said.
Mallard and Baalman are among the four key returners for the Lady Bluebirds. Alyssa Oelrichs and Bailey Heimsoth also return after having good sophomore seasons.
Cole Camp is replacing Cameron Snell, Kaleena Logan, Alexus Dieckmann and Tory Viebrock, but there is a lot of competition among the 31 girls on the roster.
Coach Abby Massingill said hitter Maddi Cook and transfer Lyza Jamerson are certainly in the mix for earning starting roles.
“She’s stepped in and has done a nice job for us all summer,” Massingill said of Cook. “She’s tall and she’s really come a long way with her agility on the net.”
Jamerson played for Cole Camp her sophomore year, but transferred to Osage last year and is back with the Lady Bluebirds for her senior season.
“She’s been a setter in the past, but right now we’re going to have her play back row and hitting,” Massingill said.
Others that Massingill said have stood out are Alyssa Chump, Payton Haase and Taylor Viebrock.
“I’ve got a lot to choose from, which I’m very fortunate for that,” she said.
There’s 17 players that are either sophomores, juniors or seniors, but there’s 14 freshman also fighting for playing time.
“We don’t even have a set team yet,” Mallard said. “Anybody, freshmen, it doesn’t matter who you are, anybody can play varsity.”
While the decision for a starting lineup is being determined, the main focus in practice has been defense and serve-receive.
Massingill said she knows the team can set and hit the ball, but using defense to gain control is where it starts.
“We’re definitely strongest on the net,” she said. “Our offense is going to be our strongest for sure. We haven’t even hit a ball this week because we’re really working hard on our defense and serve-receive. I’m hoping that will also be a strength.”
After falling just short of the state semifinals last season, getting there is the ultimate goal for this group but Massingill said she wants everyone just to focus on setting goals each day to work up to that point in the season.
“We know our end goal ultimately is to make it to state, but we’ve talked about not forgetting about the small individual goals on the day to day basis,” she said.
Jason Strickland can be reached at 660-530-0147 or on Twitter @J_Strick_Sports.