Though the individual parts are pretty good, Ottumwa High School volleyball coach Ruth Thomas believes the sum of them can be greater.
It won’t be long until the Bulldogs know for sure if that’s the case.
Ottumwa enters the season with an experienced lineup, but with a few holes to fill at key positions. Still, the Bulldogs figure to rely on a strong junior class to compliment a senior group that has been through the program multiple years.
“We really have amazing athletes who just live to be in a sport,” Thomas said. “We have the talent here, but the players have to push the players around them. If they put it all together, I’m not even sure they’ll know what it will look like.”
The Bulldogs should have a strong group of hitters once again, with three-year starter Anne Guest the centerpiece of the offense. The junior had a team-high 220 kills a season ago, and averaged a block per game.
It was also important that junior hitters Ashley Jones and Chloe Schneckloth earned varsity time last season. Jones brings a hard left-handed swing, while Schneckloth had big performances late in the season.
Also, Kacy Nickerson will be expected to take on a bigger role as a hitter and blocker, since Grace Bookin-Nosbisch elected for cross country for her final season. Junior Ally Paris played in about half the team’s games last year, and brings some experience to the hitting group as well. Josie Vanderhaar and Avery Baumgarter also are in the hitting mix.
“Our junior class is such a strong class,” Thomas said. “Our players have worked a lot together, gone to camps together, etc. They’ve done all the offseason work we’ve asked. Now, they just have to fine-tune it.”
The Bulldogs lost one of their two setters from a year ago, but junior Emma Weilbrenner returns after posting 218 assists in a two-setter offense. She will be joined this season by senior Katie Nelson, who has experience setting and is an all-around strong player.
One of the tougher replacements will be in the back row, where the team is a little more inexperienced. Mercedes Coram will be the libero, following in the shoes of former captain Helen Altfillisch, and is joined by Loren Egbert and sophomore newcomer Kylie Heller in the back row.
“Mercedes and Loren have really stepped up their game,” Thomas said. “Kylie is new to the group, but she’s very good at reading plays.”
Though the Bulldogs have the talent, Thomas hopes the team becomes more confident in its abilities. Ottumwa has challenged for the CIML Metro title over the last couple seasons, and the hope is the team will continue that trajectory.
“Two years ago we didn’t beat Des Moines Lincoln at all and last year we beat them. Now, hopefully we can get an edge on Des Moines Roosevelt,” Thomas said. “We play them the last match of the season, and then again in the Metro tournament. The schedule to end the season is going to be really good for us going into the postseason.”