LONG CREEK - In his second year as head volleyball coach, James Hixenbaugh said 2002 may be the season that the Mountaineers break through and claim the TriCo League championship.

Last year Long Creek finished second in the TriCo League with a 7-1 record in league games and 15-3 overall, and went to the District 4-1A Tournament as the No. 2 seed from the TriCo behind league-champion Monument.

At the tournament, the Mountaineers dropped their opening match to Adrian and were eliminated from the competition with a loss in the consolation round to Burnt River.

With four returning seniors, three of which earned either first or second team all-league honors last year, Hixenbaugh has reason for high expectations in 2002.

Senior Becca Helstowski, who was named a first-team, all-league performer last season, leads the squad, and is backed up by seniors Miranda Bennett and Joey Vaughan, who were both named second-team all-stars.

The fourth senior on the squad is Christy Brown, who has a lot of athletic ability.

Junior Cassi Ross is the fifth returning player, and she saw a lot of court-time last season.

"We are looking for a strong year this time around and with four seniors, this could be the year for us," Hixenbaugh said. "What we have to do this year is keep everything in order and try to stay injury-free."

With just eight players currently out for the team, foreign exchange students will be playing a key role in Long Creek's success or failure this year.

Thankfully the Mountaineers have three players, two of which have had volleyball experience in their home countries, who should have a major impact on the team.

Karolien Dorsman from Holland and Val Bonnanfant from France are the experienced players and Oyundelger Oyuka is from Mongolia.

"Karolien and Val are both big, strong girls who should be able to help us out this year. They both have been working hard in practice," Hixenbaugh said. "Oyundelger just came out for the team and she has never played volleyball before, but she is learning and she should be able to give us a hand as well.

"Right now, everyone is excited and ready to go."

Long Creek opens the season at the Prairie City Tournament on Saturday, Sept. 6, and plays it's first home match on Friday, Sept. 20, against TriCo League opponent Jordan Valley.

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