The Grant Union Prospector volleyball team is aspiring to return for a state title as their season starts with new head coach Ali Abrego.
Longtime Prospector head coach Shae Speth, who moved out of state two years ago, returned last season to coach the team, leading the Prospectors to a 3-1 win over the Culver Bulldogs at the OSAA Volleyball State Championships. It was the first state title the team won since Speth herself was a player on the Prospector team in 1989.
Abrego comes to the team with several years experience in the game. The last two years she was the 4A La Grande Tiger junior varsity II coach while attending Eastern Oregon University.
Before her time in La Grande, she played volleyball for two years for Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho, an NCAA division II team.
Abrego said she’s been around volleyball throughout much of her life.
“My mom was a volleyball coach when I was little, so I grew up in the gym,” she said.
When she played for Powder Valley High School, where she graduated, the team made it to the state championship game three out of four years.
Abrego accepted a position as special education teacher at Humbolt Elementary School in Canyon City last school year and finished her master’s degree while teaching there.
While teaching, she said she spent time in the gym assisting the Prospector team.
She said she’s excited and looking forward to the season.
“This group of girls is extremely talented, so I think it will be a good year,” she said. “They want to compete.”
She added the girls are coachable, supportive of each other and work hard.
“They’re willing to buckle down and grind it out when they have tired muscles and long days in the gym,” she said. “They’re willing to make the adjustments they need to make in order to better themselves and the team.”
This year’s team has 24 members, including the varsity, junior varsity and junior varsity II groups.
On the roster are nine seniors, three juniors, four sophomores and nine freshmen.
Abrego said it’ll be important for the upperclassmen to set the standard for the younger players.
“It’s hard to be a freshman,” she said. “These girls do a good job of cheering on the younger kids when they see good things happening.”
The team lost three girls to graduation who were starters on the state championship team.
Returning starters are seniors Kaylee Wright, Hailie Wright, Trinity Hutchison and Sydney Brockway. Alcie Moore and Taylor Allen also saw a lot of time on the court last season. This year’s seniors have a positive outlook on the season.
“We have a lot of experience playing together,” Kaylee Wright said.
“Most of us have played volleyball together since we were kids,” Hutchison said. “We also have a lot of athletic underclassmen.”
Kaylee Wright said she’s looking forward to a new addition to their team, Japanese student Yui Asami.
Asami, a senior with two years experience, said she’s looking forward to making friends and improving her skills.
Moore said the team will have a lot of strength from the seniors.
“We all get along together,” she said, referring to the team as a whole.
The Prospectors will face Enterprise, Heppner, Pilot Rock, Stanfield, Union and Weston-McEwen in the Blue Mountain Conference this season.
“I’m coaching against my high school coach,” Abrego said. Union’s coach was the Powder Valley coach in the past.
She said the only teams she hasn’t seen are Heppner and Pilot Rock.
Hailie Wright said she’s anticipating a great season.
“We have a lot of expectations from last year, and I think we have a good shot for a repeat,” she said. “I’m excited for our new coaches Ali and Erin.”
Assistant coach Erin Beil, who is an educational assistant at Humbolt, officiated volleyball games for the past 12 years and was a commissioner one year.
“I’m really excited and grateful to work with these kids and to have an assistant coach who knows the technical side,” Abrego said.
She said the key to a great season will be keeping their intensity of play up at all times and unifying the group.
“It’s important that the kids control the tempo of the game,” she said, adding, “It’s important to create a sense of unity among the whole team, junior varsity and varsity together.”
The Prospectors will host a tournament at 8 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 25, and they host the 3A Burns Hilanders at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 28, with junior varsity II starting at 4 p.m.
Grant Union volleyball schedule
Aug. 25: GU Tournament, varsity, at 8 a.m.
Aug. 28: Grant Union vs. Burns, varsity/junior varsity/junior varsity II, 4 p.m.
Sept. 1: @ Heppner Invitational Tournament,V/JV, at 9 a.m.
Sept. 4: @ La Grande, V/JV/JVII, 4 p.m.
Sept. 5: vs. Dayville/Monument, JV/JVII, 5 p.m.
Sept. 8: @ Reedsport Tournament, V, 8 a.m.
Sept. 12: @ Prairie City, JV/JVII, 5 p.m.
Sept. 13: vs. Heppner, V/JV, 5 p.m.
Sept. 14: @ Baker Invitational Tournament, V, 9 a.m.
Sept. 18: @ Burns, V/JV/JVII, 4 p.m.
Sept. 23: vs. Stanfield, Weston-McEwen, V/JV, noon
Sept. 23: vs. Elgin, V/JV, 5 p.m.
Sept. 25: vs. Union, V/JV, 5 p.m.
Sept. 29: @ Pilot Rock, Enterprise, V/JV, noon
Oct. 3: @ Dayville/Monument, JV/JVII, in Monument, 5 p.m.
Oct. 4: @ Heppner, V/JV, 5 p.m.
Oct. 6: @ Stanfield, Weston-McEwen in Stanfield, V/JV, noon
Oct. 9: @ Union, V/JV, 5 p.m.
Oct. 13: vs. Pilot Rock, V/JV, noon
Oct. 13: vs. Enterprise, V/JV, 2 p.m.
Oct. 16: vs. Crane, V/JV, 5 p.m.
Oct. 20: Blue Mountain District Tournament, V, in Stanfield, TBA
Oct. 27: First Round State Playoffs, V, TBA
Nov. 2: Second Round State Playoffs, V, Ridgeview High School in Redmond
Nov. 2: Semifinals, TBA
Nov. 3: Finals, TBA