NASELLE - When you lose four all-league caliber starters to graduation and the head coach retires, one usually doesn't expect a fifth consecutive league title run. But then most new coaches aren't as lucky as Kim Eaton is to have Pacific 2B League MVP Sylvia Herrold on the squad. Eaton was a Comets assistant coach for seven seasons and moved up to the head position when Debbie Denny retired following a 15-4 season and a trip to state.
The Comets have won or tied for the Pacific 2B top spot the past four seasons and Herrold has been one of the big reasons why. She prepared for her senior year by playing club volleyball in Longview and competing in Reno to cap off the summer season. The athletic and aggressive lefty outside hitter and middle blocker will be joined by Ashley Ahlstrom, also a senior starter with considerable varsity experience on the front line.
Eaton says, "Shelby Leeland will probably be one of the setters for the team and Emily Green saw the most varsity action of any of the other returnees. Orianne Condon and Rebecca Rostad also saw limited playing time on the varsity." Brandi Keightley, a senior who hasn't played since her freshman season, will also be "a great contributor to the team" according to the coach.
Eaton explains, "We're still playing around with different ideas on the offensive sets and experimenting with different player positions. I haven't actually had all the girls on the floor at the same time in game-type situations the first week of practice, but some of the girls played well at camp this summer, so we do have some experience working together. There are lots of possible player variations and we will try to find the best combinations."
Eaton believes South Bend will again be the team to beat in league play, with Valley and Raymond in the mix with the Comets for district playoff berths. Defending District IV champ Toutle Lake will likely be the top dog from the Central League, along with Morton according to Eaton. There are four berths to 2B state up for grabs this season.
Eaton says, "I'm very excited about being the varsity coach. It is different in that I'm still getting used to having the final say. Being head coach is still the same (as being an assistant) because I am working with a great group of girls and I still love the game."
Junior hopefuls for the Comets are Jackie Anderson, Emma Fauver, Risa Fletcher and Jerrica Juarez. Sophomores on the 22-girl roster are Hannah Beatty, Nicolle Best, Nicole Laney, Alicia Langston and Lindsay O'Kelley. Freshmen include Megan Agee, Baylee Clark, Sara Maki, Haleigh See, Nicole Tarabochia and Taylor Wasmundt.
The Comets JV team will be coached by Rhiana Jacot, relatively new to the Naselle area and employed as a para-educator at NHS. "Rhiana has been a great asset this summer by helping with camps and open gym. She is a great motivator and very enthusiastic," Eaton praises.
"We are working a lot more on conditioning at the early practices and our overall attitude has been very energetic and positive. I think this year will be lots of fun and the girls will find a lot of success," Eaton predicts. The continuity of hiring the assistant to be the head coach, an improving supporting cast, and Sylvia Herrold in the middle for the Comets could lead to a "five-peat" of 2B Pacific League supremacy, and should garner at the least an invite to district.
A winning run at district is certainly in the cards and another ticket to the state tournament is well within Naselle's grasp. If the younger players can mature by season's end and Herrold, Ahlstrom and Keightley play up to their considerable potential, the Comets just might improve on their two-and-out performance at last year's state tournament.