The Knappa Lady Loggers had higher hopes for the 2017 volleyball season.
It started on a positive note, with a three-game sweep over Clatskanie in the second match of the season.
But there’s not much time to get things straightened before league play begins in Northwest League volleyball.
After splitting a pair of nonleague matches, the Loggers were in league play by Sept. 5. And after getting swept by Gaston in the league opener, Knappa never did quite recover from an 0-3 start in league, finishing 3-8 in the NWL standings, 4-12 overall.
If Jeff Kaul wanted a challenge in his ninth year, he’s got one, as Knappa must replace six seniors lost to graduation. The Loggers head into the season with just four returners with varsity experience.
“But they want to play, and they play hard,” Kaul said of this year’s group. “I think we’ll have a fun season, once they gel. They’re playing across from people they’ve never played with before, so it’s all new.”
Speaking of new, even the Northwest League has a slightly different look, having lost Delphian and gained Portland Christian, which has dropped back down from the 3A level.
“Portland Christian did well last year at the 3A level, so obviously they’re going to be a dominant team in the 2A,” Kaul said. “Faith Bible graduated pretty much their whole team, but their JV was nothing to sneeze at. So I’m sure they will be a contender.
“Vernonia is always tough. Those girls just always seem to be big and strong. Their coach gets them going for everything. I wish I knew their secret.”
While the Loggers struggled after the league-opening loss to Gaston, the Greyhounds never looked back, finishing 12-0 in league play before going two-and-out at the state tournament.
Gaston lost five players to graduation, including middle blocker Charity Hall.
“Gaston lost a lot, but they’ll still be tough and I don’t think they will suffer that much,” Kaul said. “Nestucca was coming on strong at the end of last season, so they might surprise some people this year.”
As for his own team, Kaul said, “after watching these girls playing and hitting all summer, I’m thinking — if we can stay healthy — we should be able to compete.”
A small senior class includes team captains Kourtney Tischer and Jordan Walter. There’s also just two juniors, Sophia Carlson and Aiko Miller.
“Sophia and Aiko are both very strong players,” Kaul said. “Aiko will step into Jaden Miethe’s spot and be our Libero. But those four are my only experienced varsity returners.”
The rest of the varsity roster is made up of four sophomores (Raven Corcoran, Cassidy Engblom, Megan Hellberg, Vicki Ramvick) and two incoming freshmen, Hannah Dietrichs and Taylin Regier, a promising outside hitter.
“Hannah and Taylin made every open gym this summer,” Kaul said. “We worked with them a lot, and this is the first time in a long time we’ll be starting two freshmen. They will be fun to watch.”
He added, “We did conditioning during the hottest week of the summer, and of course our gym is like a blast furnace. But they all showed up and kept coming back.”
Kaul’s setters will likely be Tischer and the freshman, Regier.
“They’re not seasoned setters, but Kourtney will step up and be a setter for us, and we’re working with Taylin to help out with setting. Right now, we’re doing good. They were getting the ball up and setting it nice the first week of practice. Basically we’re training two brand new setters.”
Miller “was pretty excited” about playing Libero. “She can hit pretty well out of the back row. She’s a good passer, she’s fast and she knows the court.”
On the downside, “we have no height coming back,” he said, as the Loggers must replace Kaitlyn Truax and Paris Vanderburg. “Vicki and Hannah are pretty tall, and Taylin can jump to the moon.”
The early returns for 2018 have been positive for the Loggers.
Following Knappa’s appearance in the annual Warrenton tournament Aug. 25, Kaul said, “Our two freshmen, Taylin Regier and Hannah Dietrichs are getting stronger and more confident each outing, and it is great to have some young players who are already getting very confident with their jump serving.
“Together they combined for almost half of the team’s aces,” he said.
In addition, “Kourtney Tischer, who has stepped up to take on the setting position this season, has been getting stronger and stronger and when she gets good passes from the back, she is getting the ball where it needs to go so our hitters can make the plays.”
Coach: Jeff Kaul, 9th year
2017: 4-12 (3-8 league)
Playoffs: Lost league playoff at Delphian.
Key losses: Jaden Miethe, Mack Strain, Kaitlyn Truax, Paris Vanderburg.
Key returners: Sophia Carlson, Aiko Miller.