More committed Lady Fishermen volleyball team could turn tide

<I>DAMIAN MULINIX photo</I><BR>"I'm excited about the year," said outside hitter Courtney Gilgore, right, of her team. Gilgore is one of three seniors that coach Johnson said she will be counting on this season.

ILWACO - "We are still in a building mode," second-year volleyball coach Candy Johnson says as she put her 20 players through their paces during workouts the first week of the season. "Our skill level is up from this time a year ago, so that will allow us to teach more 'team strategy' this season," she explains.

Last year the Lady Fishermen won only one match and tied for last place in the Trico League with a 1-13 overall record. "We had to deal with so many changes last season," Johnson laments. "In a way it was good that we were able to get a lot of girls playing time and that will hopefully pay off this year, but we never were able to work together, to gel as a team." A myriad of negative circumstances forced Ilwaco to have a different starting lineup almost every week during the 2006 campaign.

Johnson is hopeful this year's team will stay focused and the players will give themselves a chance to click by being committed to practices and games much more consistently. "We have a core group of girls who are returning and we have some positive additions from the freshman class. We should have eight or 10 girls who can fill the six positions on the court."

Leading the way is senior middle and outside hitter and leading server from last season, Erin McDonnell. Melany Bliss, a middle blocker and Courtney Gilgore, an outside hitter and possible setter are the other two seniors Johnson is counting on to anchor the Lady Fishermen's success this season.

McDonnell says, "We are already getting the team thing down better." Gilgore adds, "I'm excited about the year. I see us already doing more advanced drills. I just need to get in shape now." Bliss relates, "I know I've already improved and learned more this season. Our hitting, communication and passing as a team is better." With no dominant hitter on the team, those skills will be key factors in earning more wins.

Samantha Millner returns as a middle hitter and Marin McDonnell should contribute well as an outside hitter. Charlotte Johnson is back out and looks strong as setter in early workouts, as does Teresa Goodwin. Kate Denton at setter and outside hitter is a sparkplug that will be a plus at either position. Freshmen Sydney Ward at outside hitter and Alexa Wirkkala at middle or outside hitter also show signs of being able to play at the varsity level, while possibly getting some seasoning on the junior varsity squad.

Linda Raaymakers will again assist Johnson and work primarily with the junior varsity and volunteer "super assistant" and veteran volleyball mentor, Doug Rogers, will contribute wherever needed. "Doug is such a help I sometimes feel I'm assisting him," Johnson praises. "And Linda works so well with the younger kids. It seems like they are getting better by the minute."

One area the Lady Fishermen could use a boost is in the leadership category. "I'm hoping we will be more competitive in more games," Johnson says. If Ilwaco can keep the majority of their players out for the program-they finished with but 15 of the 29 who began last year-they should gain the confidence and on-court leadership the coaching staff is looking for.

Castle Rock and Stevenson dominated the league last season and LaCenter and Kalama also had veteran teams that went to district. All but Stevenson were hit heavily by graduation, so the Trico should be much more wide open this season. A couple of early victories and a cohesive and consistent group effort for the entire season could lead to Ilwaco turning the tide and moving up the league ladder a couple of rungs in 2007.

Other Lady Fishermen out for volleyball include Brittnee Pattison, Ariel Weir, Marcella Morrison, Josie Wright, Deanna Smallwood, McKenzie Stockfleth, Alexis Ferguson, Tasia Cain, Heidi Reichelt, and Kailee Deibert. Ilwaco will host Warrenton Sept. 4 and visit Naselle Sept. 10 to kickoff the season.

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