College Volleyball: New Crop of Blazers Snapping Into Shape
Getting to Know You: Four Returners Aim to Anchor Promising Squad
By Jordan Nailon
In volleyball, like most team sports, communication is integral to a successful effort. As anyone who’s ever been forced to make small talk with a stranger knows, though, sometimes figuring out how to chat with new people is easier said than done.
That issue is exacerbated at the two-year community college level where at least half of your team is likely to turnover each season. Luckily, this year’s Centralia College volleyball squad has found a way to game the system and give themselves a jumpstart on their NWAC competition.
“We snapchat,” said Trailblazer sophomore and Centralia High School alum, Rachel Wilkerson. “This year we started the group chat long before the season started which is something we didn’t do with me coming in and I wish we would have because I feel like it’s helped our chemistry because we know each other a lot more.”
During the preseason Wilkerson has been handling leadership duties alongside the three other returning players on the roster — Macey Martin of Naches, Evy Elting of Toutle, and Skylah Kunihisa out of Hawaii. With their combined experience to help guide a promising wave of incoming players, Wilkerson is full of hope for the 2019 season.
“I see a lot of talent and I think we have a lot of good chemistry. And I think we have a lot of potential. I’m excited,” Wilkerson said at practice on Wednesday.
Last year the Blazers finished 12-20 overall with a 5-9 record in conference play that left them in sixth place in the West Region. Like Wilkerson and company, head coach Susan Gordon is excited to see what this year’s team can achieve.
“We have a lot of freshmen coming in but this team is also very focused. We were able to recruit some top freshmen and their skills and their knowledge of the game is a lot higher than a lot of the kids I’ve been able to recruit previously,” noted Gordon. “The players that are going to be making a big impact right away, the freshmen that are coming in, are going to be Madelynn Skinner (Lewiston, ID), Olivia Mitten (Onalaska), and Kinsie Miller (Asotin). For sure those three right off the bat.”
Gordon emphasized that as the rest of the freshmen become more familiar with one another, and the way things work in college in general, she expects that they too will find a way to make an impact on the court. The Blazers coach knows from experience that the learning curve can be rather steep during the first few months that a player is out on their own but she’s encouraged by the progress her players have made so far.
“It’s actually a lot better than I thought. There’s five of them living together and I was really worried about that because it’s kind of crazy spending all day in the gym and then going home together. But it’s a lot better than I thought it was going to be. They don’t seem to have any problems,” Gordon said. “There’s only two that knew each other and then some of them came and did recruiting visits together and that’s when they met. Or just getting their workouts sent and then they started snapchatting, or whatever that social stuff is. If anything that helped because they all seemed to know each other right away. It was kind of weird.”
Gordon expects Highline College, last year’s runner-up at the NWAC Championships, to set the pace in the West Region. However, she put Lower Columbia College and Pierce College up there with the top tier contenders as well. Of the three, it’s Pierce that’s most likely to elicit an extra effort from the Trailblazers this year, though. That’s because the Raiders poached a former Centralia College (and Mossyrock High School) player to join their coaching ranks this season.
“Autumn Durand is coaching up there and she played for us last year, so…” explained Wilkerson before trailing off momentarily. “We’re probably going to hype it up a little bit.”
Gordon confirmed that her players seem to have marked their calendars on October 4 as a reminder that Pierce will be in the Hub City that day.
“The returners are not happy with (Durand) for going up to Pierce because we hate Pierce. But she lives up there so it makes sense for her,” said Gordon. “Outside of that I don’t think there’s anybody else. I think they just want to win.”
Wilkerson said that she believes the team’s increased height at the net will be one of the easiest improvements to spot for fans this season. Gordon added that the team’s defense will need to carry them through the first part of the season until their offense finds its rhythm.
“Our offense will take awhile to gel because the key players who are going to be running the offense are all freshmen. Defensively, with the return of Macey, she was our libero last year, we should be a very solid defensive team. Give us half way through the season and you should see our offense improve a lot.”
The Trailblazers will open their season on August 23 at Umpqua College. Their first home date is a doubleheader against Mt. Hood and Clackamas on September 3. Centralia will play the Saints at 1 p.m. and the Cougars at 3 p.m.