WALLA WALLA — Things are rolling on as usual at Walla Walla Community College.
The Warrior volleyball team finished third in last season’s NWAACC championship tournament — the sixth time in the last nine years it has finished third or better — and with last season’s starting libero and middle hitter returning, the Warriors look to keep that streak going this season.
“That’s certainly a goal this year, to have a shot at the NWAACC title,” WWCC coach Tim Toon said. “It’s not a pipe dream, but certainly a goal that can be reached.”
JaLisa Jose and Delaney Fisher are the lone returning starters from last season, and Walla Walla will be young overall, with five sophomores and nine freshmen on the roster.
“We are considered young, but I think by the middle of the season we have a chance to be one of the best in the NWAACC,” Toon said. “It’s unproved talent, but we’re going to get there.”
Jose, a 5-foot-11 middle hitter, scored 286 kills for a 2.18 average last season. She also racked up 60 blocks, 118 digs and nine service aces.
Fisher, a 5-2 libero, started last season and notched 23 service aces and 379 digs.
“She was a very significant part of our success last year,” Toon said of Jose. “Those (Jose and Fisher) are the two that made an impact last year, and are pretty much two of our anchors this year.”
Other players Toon expects to start include Wa-Hi graduate Chantelle Zamora, Devin Casterline and Breanna Mehling.
“It’s still pretty early,” Toon said. “We’ve got a lot of talented freshmen and we’re very pleased with the way they’re training. It’s likely that three or four of them will play a lot, but that’s still to be determined.”
Zamora is coming off a redshirt season that she used to adjust to college play.
She played outside hitter at Wa-Hi and was named to the Tri-City Herald’s All-Area team and the Columbia Basin Big Nine’s All-Conference second team.
But at just 5-7, many college coaches were hesitant to recruit her at outside hitter.
“So what we explored last year is: is she big enough and dynamic enough to play OH in college?” Toon said. “And the answer is definitely yes, but it really took all of last year for her to develop the skills to prove that.
“That was a debate amongst all of the college coaches that wanted to recruit her,” Toon said. “Could she adapt to the college level? But she jumps well, she hits the snot out of the ball, and she definitely can play outside hitter at the college level. The rest of the NWAACC is going to learn it was a mistake not going after her.”
Casterline, a 5-5 redshirt sophomore, played in 2011 but redshirted last season to transition from setter to libero. In 2011 she scored six aces and 73 digs.
“She played a significant role in that squad (2011),” Toon said. “She took another year to develop as a player and in the classroom. It was a joint decision for her to train with us but not play. She’ll play a significant role this year.”
Toon named just one freshman, 5-5 setter Mehling, as another player likely to see significant time.
“She comes from a great high school (Nampa, Idaho) and club program,” Toon said. “She’s mature beyond her years on and off the court.”
Overall, Toon, who has coached at WWCC for the past 21 years, expects a growing period, but that the Warriors will still be in contention for a title.
The Warriors kick off the season with the eight-team Chemeketa Tournament beginning Friday.
“It’s a very competitive tournament, and it features all of the usual suspects to win the NWAACC tournament,” Toon said, mentioning Spokane, Walla Walla, Blue Mountain and Mount Hood.
The Warriors won’t open their home slate of matches suntil Sept. 18 when it hosts rival Columbia Basin.