Whittell volleyball hopes to keep tradition alive during 1999
Whittell’s volleyball team is adding a shade of meaning to the phrase “defending the home floor” this season.
This year, the Warriors are looking to continue their old ways on a new court. If they’re going to make the state tournament for the seventh consecutive year, they’ll get most of the way there on the flawless new spring-loaded floor where they play their home games.
“This year is kind of a rebuilding year, and we want to see what we can do,” said senior captain Erin Zaskoda, who plays middle blocker and outside hitter for the Warriors. “We definitely want to make an impression on our floor.”
The floor, though, is not the only thing new to the Warriors. If Whittell intends to exceed last year’s 27-25 record and fifth-place state finish, it’ll have to blend veterans with new talent – no small task for a team that lost three all-league players to graduation last season.
“I like this year a lot better,” said Zaskoda’s co-captain, Carlye Johnson, a junior who runs the Whittell offense as its setter. “We’re getting along better and there’s more unity than before.”
That unity may be Whittell’s most important asset: Two of the departed all-league Warriors went on to NCAA Division I athletics, and the other turned down an offer to play Division III volleyball. The players who step into the squad’s starring roles are key to Whittell’s success; but no more so than the players head coach Dan McLaughlin hopes complements them.
“It’s my job to put the pieces together,” McLaughlin said.
Zaskoda looks to be the most dominating piece on the board for Whittell. McLaughlin called his off-hand hitter the best player in class 3A, a triple threat who can hit, serve and block, and he wants to find the best position on the course to display her skills.
Joining Zaskoda in the spotlight are classmates Jaime Borge and Jahna Rico, and juniors Johnson and Shannon McGlothlin. McGlothlin is an offhand hitter who brings a year of varsity play, a year of club play and a positive attitude to the position. Borge, also an outside hitter, played with the varsity last season, and keys some of the team’s blocks from the outside position. Rico distinguished herself as the team’s senior defensive specialist.
“She’s a hustler,” McLaughlin said. “She goes for every ball. She’s got a terrific serve, and she gets to everything.”
Johnson is a lefty, which opens up the possibilities on the volleyball court as much as a left-handed pitcher does a baseball diamond. Her teammates voted the junior one of the captains, which speaks to her role on the team.
“Carlye Johnson is going to fill the role of setter very well,” McLaughlin said. “She brings soft hands, an excellent vertical jump and a desire to be successful. She works hard with her plays. The setter, by definition, is an ultimate team player, and she works hard to be that kind of player.”
No less important, though, are the team members McLaughlin identified as role players. Senior Danielle Cronis will be a factor at middle blocker, while multitalented junior Joeleene Brinkley gives the team another defensive specialist. Junior Cassandra Caulfield, a transfer from Napa, Calif., and sophomore Jassika Purdy will be hard to keep off that new court.
The task for the veterans is to help the youngsters blend themselves into Whittell’s winning framework.
“This is a team that’s not based on stardom, but based on role-playing,” McLaughlin said. “What we’re lacking in size and strength, we make up for in hustle, determination and teamwork.”
Should depth become a factor, Whittell has an option few teams can boast. McLaughlin has no qualms dipping into the pool of junior varsity players coached Damon Kixmiller and Mike Williams.
Whittell may need all the help it can get. In addition to taking an early look at some conference foes at this weekend’s Dayton tournament, McLaughlin has scheduled games against Fernley, North Tahoe and Spring Creek, the three teams outside Whittell’s league that made it to state in ’98. The Warriors also take a short road trip Oct. 4 to cross-town 4A powerhouse South Tahoe.
“In a perfect world, if we were on our game and they were on their game, it could be a match,” McLaughlin said.
But Whittell’s main goal is clear: to keep the tradition alive, and make it to state each year Whittell played in the 3A. The improvements to the floor have forced Whittell to move practice from Whittell’s gym to Kahle Middle School to the beach, but it hasn’t muddied their mission.
“I think we lost the time, some valuable time, but hopefully, we can get it back,” Zaskoda said. “It’s my senior year. We have to. We’ve got to work really hard.”
“If we can be a good defensive team, I think we can beat most of the teams in our league,” she said.
The big games looming on the schedule are Oct. 2 at Hawthorne and Oct. 23, when Hawthorne visits Zephyr Cove. Hawthorne defeated Whittell the past for years in zone, and the Warriors are ready to turn that around. Last season, Whittell broke the seeming seal on advancing once it got to state. The Warriors are hoping to go even farther this year, and put a new twist on tradition.
“Our teams always play with a lot of pride because the reputation volleyball has at this school,” McLaughlin said. “This team is no different.”
Whittell begins its season Friday at the two-day Dayton tournament.
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