NASELLE — The Comets return just one starter from last season’s seventh-place in State team. Graduated are MVP setter Taylor Gudmundsen; Lily Harman, who was a fixture at libero before tearing her ACL; power hitter Holly Disch; and many others.

Getting their turn are players who have contributed to back-to-back undefeated junior varsity seasons, some of whom saw varsity time as well.

Jackie Steenerson, who had 112 kills and made All-League last year, is the team’s senior veteran and, according to Coach Rebekah Wirkkala, its hardest hitter.

“I think it’s going to be a rebuilding year, where we get to know our positions and how everybody plays,” Steenerson said. “We’ll take a few weeks getting into our groove. I’m just trying to be encouraging to everyone, giving tips, helping them when they’re down, getting to know them.”

Kylee Tarabochia, who played libero at State last year, moves to an outside hitter spot. Her sister, Brynn, will probably slide in at libero for her freshman year.

Peyton Dalton takes over at setter, a position she has played since sixth grade. She set for the JV team as a freshman last year but got some varsity playing time late in the year. With Naselle trailing against Firm Foundation last year, Wirkkala brought her in for back-row defense, where she helped force a fifth set. At Districts, Dalton again played in a loss to Firm Foundation, this time as an emergency setter when Gudmundsen was feared to have a concussion.

Dalton set for many of her teammates at the JV and Middle School levels, and is working on developing that chemistry with Steenerson.

“Jackie is real reliable, and gets to some tough sets,” Dalton said. “I need to work on my connection with her…Delaney (Kragerud) is a power hitter. Hollie (Haataia) is real powerful.”

This year’s players showed promise while stuck behind last year’s loaded roster. As a JV group, Wirkkala said, “they communicated well, read each other well. It’s not like starting over, because they’ve been playing together.”

The team has solid height. Steenerson, at 5’10”, will play in the middle. Haataia, Kragerud and Zani Wulf are all tall options at the other MH position.For the first time in years, the Comets will not enter league play as favorites due to the rapid rise of Battle Ground-based Firm Foundation Christian. After losing to Naselle in three sets on Oct. 2, the Eagles beat the Comets in five on the 18th, then won again in five in District finals before taking, which was fifth at State. The Eagles return hitter Katie Kogler, the league’s co-MVP with Gudmundsen last season.

Naselle opens at Ilwaco on Sept. 10 at 7 p.m.

Aaron Mead is a sports writer for the Chinook Observer. Contact him at 360-642-8181 or aaroncmead@gmail.com.

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