WALLA WALLA — After capturing only one Mid-Columbia Conference victory last season, the Walla Walla High School volleyball team is embracing the idea of teamwork.
The squad has been working together since the spring, head coach Don Hepker said, and that experience has brought the players together.
“I’ve coached a lot of teams, and the best teams I’ve ever coached are the teams that play as one,” Hepker said. “We have beat teams that were far better than us because we played together. I will take one team over six individuals any day.”
With a more united roster, Hepker said the play on the court has improved as well.
“It was fantastic,” Hepker said of summer workouts. “We had over 40 girls showing up every time. We had a lot of young players getting a lot of experience. Plus with our returners, we were able to work on rotations and plays during the summer.”
Hepker, who enters his second year as Blue Devils coach, said Wa-Hi lost a few key players from last year’s team, which fielded mostly sophomores.
This year’s roster, on the other hand, features seven seniors, six juniors and no sophomores.
The players’ high school experience, coupled with offseason workouts, could spell good things for the Blue Devils, he said.
“Luckily, we knew most of the girls that would not be returning last spring,” Hepker said. “We took other players and were able to train them into new positions. Coming out here (on the) first day of tryouts, we already had a good idea of where players were. That being said, we didn’t have teams set before tryouts.”
Hepker pointed to two juniors, Madi Doetker and Reece Carmen, as key cogs to the Blue Devils’ success this year. Both rotate on the left side between the front and back rows.
Hepker said he believes they could form the conference’s best 1-2 punch this season.
“Madi’s ball control was good last year, but it’s just gotten a lot better over the summer,” Hepker said. “Offensively, she was incredibly strong last year. She’s just matured. She’s going to be a real force.
“Reece played left side for us last year and she’s a tall girl who hits the ball really high,” he said. “She had the chance to go to a bunch of elite camps this summer. She has improved so much.”
Nonetheless, Carmen will be a relative outlier on the roster this season, as the team has lost a lot of height from a season ago, Hepker said.
But for whatever vertical advantage they lack, the Blue Devils will counter with teamwork and speed, he said.
“Although we will close our blocks better than we did last year, we’re not going to put up as big of blocks,” Hepker said. “On the flip side of that, our defense is going to be a lot better than last year. We’re giving up height, but we’ve added speed and we’ve added control on the defense.”
Senior Paige Parsons will be essential to Wa-Hi’s defense this season, he said.
Parsons, who played on Wa-Hi junior varsity last year, will be the Blue Devils’ middle hitter, Hepker said.
“Her foot speed has gotten a lot better,” Hepker said of Parsons. “She’s able to move along the net really quickly and she transitions really fast. She’s not a very big middle but what she makes up for in height is (her) speed.”
The Blue Devils open the season with the Lewiston Invite on Saturday.
Mid-Columbia Conference play opens on the road Tuesday in Kennewick.