Enthusiasm is building this year after the Prairie City Panther volleyball team’s stellar 2017 season, which included their District 1A-8 Tournament win and advancing to the first round of state.
Six seniors graduated, but this year’s team, including five of eight juniors who are seasoned varsity players, is ready to make it come together again this season.
Jordan Bass, this year’s new head coach, said she’s excited for what lies ahead.
Backed up by assistant coaches Lance and Louanne Zweygardt, who previously co-coached the team for several years, Bass said their knowledge and experience will be a great asset for the team. Bass was the Panther’s assistant coach last year and a volunteer assistant off and on before that.
She played five years for Central Washington University’s NCAA division II volleyball team in Ellensburg. This is where the Panther team attended a four-day volleyball camp this summer.
“I think they got a lot out of the experience, including skills and team building,” Bass said, adding she felt it was important to start the process of team bonding early.
Eleven of 15 girls attended the camp, paying almost the entire cost with fundraising.
The Panthers’ first challenge of the season is coming up Saturday, Aug. 25, in Mollala when they compete at the County Christian Invitational.
“All the top teams last year in the state are competing,” Bass said. “It’s going to be a challenge, and we’ll see some good competition.”
Last season, the Panthers entered the 1A-8 High Desert League Tournament as fourth seed.
Prairie City toppled the top-seeded Jordan Valley Mustangs and defeated the Adrian Antelopes in the tournament’s championship game for the title.
The Panthers faced Days Creek in the first round of state where they pushed it to five sets, but lost the nail-biter competition.
The now-graduated seniors Cassie Hire and Brianna Zweygardt were named to the First Team All-League, and Zweygardt was also named Player of the Year and Setter of the Year for High Desert. Another then-senior Sierra Dahlen was named to Second Team All-League. Zweygardt was also named to All-State Second Team and Hire received an All-State honorable mention.
Juniors this year, Rilee Emmel and Emily Ennis received honorable mention in the league for 2017.
Emmel and Ennis had four kills each in the game against Days Creek, and Hailee Wall, also a junior this year, had seven kills in the match.
Wall said the team has a lot of potential this year, and said their communication is especially good.
“We always need that for great plays on the court,” she said.
Ennis said she’s seen a lot of commitment from all her fellow players, and she hopes to keep the “positivity” going with the team.
“All around, our team definitely has a drive this year compared to others,” she said.
Emmel agreed, and said the entire team is “stepping up and playing a huge role.”
“I see a lot of younger-classmen stepping up and being leaders,” she added. “Team bonding is going to be huge. I’m looking forward to playing with these girls this season.”
Sole senior Kyla Winton said this is her second year playing on the team. Her first year was as a freshman.
She said, “We’ve grown up together and have a really strong bond, so it’s like a family, not just a team.”
Rounding out the roster are five sophomores and one freshman.
Sophomore Katie Hire was another strong player last season.
She said having so many seniors graduate is a challenge, but growing as a team and motivating each other will make them better players.
Hire said she’s looking forward to the season and competing at the Country Christian Invitational.
“I’m confident in my team that we can pull through and keep pushing,” she said.
Bass said they are still working on who will fill which position, but there are a lot of promising athletes that will fill the leadership void.
“Our defense is something we’re really going to be hitting hard,” she said. “We lost Brianna as setter and have a couple girls stepping up into it.”
She said Hire will bring a lot of energy to the team and is focused on improving her skills.
“She played right side last year and puts up a really great block,” Bass said. “Emily Ennis is another one stepping up into that setter role. Both have big shoes to fill, and I feel they’re rising to that challenge.”
A new member of the team is junior Shaine Madden who transfered from Grant Union this year.
“We’re excited about Shaine,” Bass said. “She’s bringing a lot of power. She’s a strong player with a great serve, and she’s consistent.”
The Panthers will face league opponents Adrian, Burnt River, Crane, Dayville/Monument, Harper, Huntington, Jordan Valley and junior varsity Long Creek/Ukiah.
Bass said she knows what to expect from their league competition.
“My main goal is to get these girls focused on themselves as a team and make adjustments in the game as necessary,” she said. “We’ll prepare for all of them just as we always would — we’re going to focus on us and our strengths.”
She added, “Our goals are to have the girls solid on their basics and have a really positive, family-oriented environment between all the players, whether JV or varsity, that we’re unified.”
2018 Prairie City volleyball schedule
Aug. 24-25: @ Country Christian Tournament in Molalla, TBA
Aug. 31: @ Dayville/Monument in Dayville, varsity at 4 p.m.
Sept. 1: Prairie City Tournament, JV,varsity at 8:30 a.m.
Sept. 7: vs. Harper, varsity at 5 p.m.
Sept. 8: @ Condon Tournament in Condon, TBA
Sept. 15: @ Powder Valley Tournament at North Powder, TBA
Sept. 26: @ Grant Union in John Day, 5 p.m.
Oct. 4: vs. Crane, JV at 5:30, varsity at 7 p.m.
Oct. 5: @ Huntington, varsity at 3:30 p.m.
Oct. 9: vs. Burnt River, varsity at 5 p.m.
Oct. 11: @ Adrian in Unity, JV at 4:30 p.m., varsity at 5:30 p.m.
Oct. 12: @ Jordan Valley, TBA
Oct. 20: High Desert League Tournament at Grant Union, TBA
Oct. 26: First Round State Playoffs, TBA