WOODWARD — The task facing Woodward-Granger volleyball head coach Meg Jackson is no simple matter, as the Hawks must replace a powerful group of seniors that finished 81-30 in their career, including earning a trip to the state tournament in 2011.
"Everyone knows we are facing some challenges and it would be foolish to pretend otherwise," Jackson said. "On the other hand we have several girls back who contributed quite a bit to the varsity last year, so we are certainly not having to start all over from the beginning again."
Perhaps not, but the numbers tell a daunting story: gone to graduation are all but 29 of the 908 assists from last year while 965 of 986 kills have also departed. The 2012 Hawks were 30-4 overall and 74-11 in total games played. Before bowing out in the postseason they had posted a 19-0 win streak in which they did not drop a game, winning all 47 in the stretch.
"So much of what we did last year would be so hard to repeat, even if we had the same girls," Jackson said. "We want to remember what that group did and be proud of it but we also understand that we should look at it not as a ‘we will never be that good’ and instead see it as the kind of level we want to raise our game up to.
"This is a completely different team in so many ways that there is almost no point in comparing them," she added. "These girls know they will have to come together and play a different style of volleyball but I like our attitude. I think this team sees this season as a challenge, not a problem, and that is the right approach to have."
A trio of juniors will be expected to provide on-court leadership for the Hawks.
Abby Musser is likely to start as an outside hitter. She served 262-of-317 last year with 64 aces and provided 387 digs defensively.
"Abby will be one of our main servers, as will Maggie Bermel and probably Olivia McCune as well," Jackson said. "She was on the floor a lot last year and that experience is going to help her."
Musser has experienced success at the highest level as she was part of a state championship relay team in track this season and part of two second-place and one third-place relay. That experience — of having to compete against the best competition — should translate onto the volleyball court as well.
"You cannot put a value on what it means to know how to win," Jackson said. "Seven or eight years ago when we were working so hard to build the program up none of those girls were girls who had experienced success, so that was one of the things we had to learn as we went along. These girls who are here now have either been a part of it or else they have seen it so they know what it looks like and what it takes to reach that level and that is something working in our favor."
Junior Tori Manning is the lead candidate to take the libero position on the floor. She served 241-of-247 with 21 aces last year, tallied 141 digs.
"Tori is a good athlete and has some good ball skills," Jackson said. "We will need her playing well for us and I am sure she will."
The third key junior returning is middle hitter Abby Hansen. She had 47 blocks in 2012 but, with numerous weapons around her, had just 11 kills.
"We did not need Abby making kills for us last year but now it is a different game," Jackson said. "I have to remind her that she is a hitting option for us now and if she plays aggressively she can do some damage for us."
Several other players will figure into the varsity mix as well, with Cailin Coker — the lone senior on the team — a likely choice to start on the outside.
Bermel and Mary Hansen are the lead choices to take over at setter, with Rachel Spinler on course to earn playing time as a defensive specialist.
Freshmen Bree Lesch and Dalaney Bice will see plenty of time on the court as well, as will McCune.
"We have been doing a lot of coaching so far and are going to be running a different offense and a different defense," Jackson said. "We will definitely be much more focused on playing good defense at all times than we were in the past. We were able to get away with less of a defensive focus in the past because of the hitters we have had, but that has all changed. Now what we need to find are the girls who are going to be able to finish at the net."
Despite the challenges facing the Hawks, Jackson is confident her squad will improve as the season progresses.
"I think is team is going to surprise some people," she said. "Yes, we lost a lot of talent, but we still have plenty of good young players and I am eager to see if they can do what I think they can do."