Perry volleyball hoping for a turnaround season

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Taking to the court for the Perry varsity volleyballers this season will be, front row from left: Grace Marburger, Sid Vancil, Syd Guerra and Isabel Saemisch. Back row from left: Adriana Eastman, Mackenzie Ayers, Gabby West, Adrian Thompson, Zoe Gordon, Maddie West and Jo Diw. Perry begins their season Thursday with a visit from Fort Dodge St. Edmond.

The recent history of the Perry volleyball team has resembled a see-saw, as the squad has bounced back-and-forth from winning seasons to losing campaigns and back again.

The 2012 Jayettes were 20-18, but the 2013 squad fell to 7-31. The team posted a remarkable adjustment in 2014 with an 18-17 mark, but last year fell to 12-23, with head coach Kristel Schultz hoping the trend continues for at least one more season.

“I would love to see us finish with a winning record,” she said. “We lost some talented players, but we still have plenty of weapons and if they are willing to work at it we can have a winning year.”

Perry will begin the season without the services of senior middle hitter Grace Marburger, who will miss some time with a finger injury. Marburger’s 86 kills and 89 digs last season were both second-best among returning players, and she served 160-of-171 (.936) with 12 aces.

“We need Grace back as soon as we can have her,” Schultz said, “but this is not a one-person team. Other girls will now have a chance to step up and show us they deserve playing time. It is a challenge for us, but it is not going to define the season.”

Junior Jo Diw is back with team-bests from last season in kills (154), digs (116) and blocks (18). She was 282-of-333 (.847) behind the line with 56 aces, or .62 aces per set.

Adrian Thompson returns after posting 44 kills, with Sid Vancil also back after tallying 453 assists and 89 digs in 2015 while serving 277-of-288 (.962) with 30 aces. Syd Guerra appeared in 42 of 91 sets and had 50 digs; she will, Schultz said, be expected to play a much larger role this season.

“Syd is almost certainly going to be our libero and we will need her to play well,” the coach said. “We have been spending quite a bit of time on serve-receive and passing, because without it we cannot get into our offense. Last year we sent too many free balls over the net, and when you do that you are just asking for bad things to happen.”

Schultz is being assisted this season by Anna (Ferguson) Klaus and John Fulton.

“They have been a great help so far,” Schultz said. “We have been able to focus on different things a little more intently, and with anywhere from 22-28 freshmen out, it certainly helps divide the load at practice.”

Schultz said the opening lineup would feature Guerra at libero, with Diw and Adriana Eastman at outside hitter while Thompson and Isabel Saemisch man the middle hitter spots. Vancil will be at setter, although Maddie West is a possibility, freeing Vancil up for other duties if necessary.

Gabby West, Mackenzie Ayers and Zoe Gordon will also receive varsity jerseys.

“Everyone needs to be ready at all times,” Schultz said. “You never know when you are going to called on. It is as important for the 10th, 11th, 12th girl to work as hard as the number one or two, because you never know when the situation might arise where it is up to you to help us get a win.”

Recent practices have left the team sweating and exhausted, exactly as Schultz wants it.

“This year we have been doing much more conditioning,” she admitted. “It is has been non-stop and intense, but we cannot have what we had last year, where we were tired and slow off our feet in longer matches. What they are going through now will help us late in the season — that is when they will see the results of their hard work.”

Perry will only on rare occasions be the taller team on the court and will have to rely on effective passing and an aggressive, hustling defense to prevail.

“We are definitely not 6-2 across the front,” Schultz laughed. “That means we need accurate passing and great communication. We also have to be aggressive at the net, which is something we have been working on — when we get our chances we want to pound the ball, to score with no doubts. When we find a weakness on the other team we have to exploit it at every chance.”

Communication and chemistry haunted the squad last year, and Schultz is keen on not seeing a repeat.

“There has been a real focusing on ‘how to be a better teammate’ in all our practices,” she said. “We just didn’t have the team chemistry we needed last year, were not cheering for each other and picking each other up. We need to be talking on the court at all times and always remain positive. If we do that I think we might surprise even ourselves at what we are capable of.”

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